For the weekend of Halloween, I figured it seemed appropriate to cover a horror story, whether it be about ghosts and goblins, vampires and werewolves, or even ordinary humans doing horrific things, making themselves proper monsters in their own right. Dot Hutchison's The Butterfly Garden falls into that last category, as a story unfolds regarding a serial killer with a peculiar obsession.
The Situation: Maya has just been rescued from a place she had only known as the Garden. Years ago, she was kidnapped and woke up in a strange and bare room. The Garden belonged to a wealthy man, known to Maya only as the Gardener, who had a habit of collecting butterflies. Unfortunately, the butterflies he was interested in weren't the kind that change from caterpillars and fly around. The Gardener's butterflies are young women, ages 16-21, that he was holding captive near his home. And they become butterflies when he has tattooed wings on their backs and renamed them, making them his own. But now that officials have found the Garden and rescued the girls, Maya is the butterfly they most wish to speak with since she seems to be their leader, and the other butterflies don't want to talk to anyone until they talk to her first. And her name is not Maya, it's Inara.
The Problem: For the most part, Inara is a straightforward person...until she isn't. She begins to tell her story to investigators Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison, starting with her less than stellar upbringing, and her early days in the Garden. It is obvious that Inara is holding back something, and she takes her time telling the story, letting out important details as she feels comfortable. For the most part, Victor is willing to be patient, only prodding when necessary. Plus, he isn't in that big of a rush to hear about the many horrors of the Garden, including other ways the Gardener demonstrated his ownership; the visits from his sadistic and cruel oldest son; and why none of the girls ever reached past the age of 21. While the Gardener may have been captured and the survivors are now safe, the investigators are still racing against the clock as parents and family, some of which are incredibly powerful, are demanding answers only Inara can provide. Also, her name isn't Inara.
Genre, Themes, History: I decided to place this fiction novel under the heading of horror, but it could also go under thriller, or mystery, or even crime fiction. The story Inara tells about her childhood is sad and tragic. And then she's kidnapped, and the story goes from tragic to a living nightmare. At the very least, the Gardener is a serial killer as well as a serial rapist. But that isn't all of it. He is also delusional, as he seems to believe, at least on some level, that he has rescued these girls from something and is keeping them safe. He is manipulative as he justifies to himself, his captives, and his sons that what he does is for the best. He is obsessive, as everything he does has a certain order and process to it, and he runs the Garden on a tight schedule and oversees almost every detail. But ultimately, he is a sad and weak man with money and means to project that onto unwilling victims.
My Verdict: As hard as this book can be to read (and there are moments when it is really hard), there is an almost constant desire to keep turning the page, if only to see how it all ends. And given that the reader knows from the beginning that the Garden has been found and the survivors have been rescued, it is certainly a triumph that Hutchison still manages to hold the reader's attention, even though the outcome is already known. Also, the book isn't hard to read because of any fault or failure in the writing style or voice, but instead because of the horrors the butterflies have to endure. Sure, there are moments when it feels like Inara could tell the story a little faster and be more forthcoming with crucial information. And there was a point near the middle of the book where I wished I could have heard from one of the other survivors. But once everything comes together in the end, it is clear the every detail and delay served a purpose. It is a fascinating, original, and horrifying premise. But given how many women are discovered these days after years of captivity, and no one knew, it actually isn't all that far fetched. And maybe that is why it is so scary.
Favorite Moment: When Desmond, the youngest son, must confront his own role in all of the horror.
Favorite Character: Bliss (not her real name) may be one of the smaller women kept in the Garden, but she is certainly one of the toughest. She isn't afraid to call someone out or give them a piece of her mind, and in incredibly colorful language at that.
Recommended Reading: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn is about a cult leader and the writer who becomes obsessed with telling his story, even going so far as to move across the country and live in the house the cult used to inhabit.