Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight

Rating: 9/10 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 
Title: Butterfly Tattoo
Author: Deidre Knight
Genre: Contemporary het romance (with bisexual and homosexual content)
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: US $6.50
Other Information/warnings: m/f, (past) m/m, references to past violence
Summary [from the publisher]:

Just when the darkness seems permanent, fate flips a switch.

Michael Warner has been drifting in a numb haze since his lover was killed by a drunk driver. As the anniversary of the wreck approaches, Michael’s grief grows more suffocating. Yet he must find a way through the maze of pain and secrets to live for their troubled young daughter who struggles with guilt that she survived the crash.

Out of the darkness comes a voice, a lifeline he never expected to find—Rebecca O’Neill, a development executive in the studio where Michael works as an electrician.

Rebecca, a former sitcom celebrity left scarred from a crazed fan’s attack, has retreated from the limelight and from life in general, certain no man can ever get past her disfigurement. The instant sparks between her and Michael, who arrives to help her during a power outage, come as a complete surprise—and so does her uncanny bond with his daughter.

For the first time, all three feel compelled to examine their inner and outer scars in the light of love. But trust is hard to come by, especially when you’re not sure what to believe when you look in the mirror. The scars? Or the truth?

My review:

The widower who finds happiness second time around with a man, is something of a slash fanfiction staple, as it conveniently turns apparently canonical heterosexuality into plausible bisexuality. (And I’ll pimp a really lovely example here, which doesn’t require any canon knowledge at all.) So when I saw the summary of Butterfly Tattoo which took this plot and turned it around – long-term partner in a gay relationship finding love with a woman – I was intrigued as to how well it would work.

It works. Oh boy it works. I sobbed all the way through this, and in fact had to wait a week before I could write something like a dispassionate review. If you want an incredibly moving exploration of love, loss, family and moving through the pain, then stop reading now and go buy this book. It will knock your socks off.

Negatives first. The story is told in present tense, first person POV, alternating POV by chapters. Which is a turn off for some people, though not for me. More of an issue was Michael’s voice. There were a lot of times when his interior monologue didn’t sound like a man, or him, or like anyone’s realistic inner voice. Some of the dialogue between Michael and Rebecca also suffers from inauthenticity:

“Becca?” I ask softly, arching my back and lifting my head so I can look over my shoulder at her. The glimpse I get in return tightens my throat. Her blonde hair is disheveled and wild, her lips swollen from my earlier kisses, and a flush has hit her Irish cheeks that makes me want to claim her now.
“Becca, now it’s my turn.”
“For what?” Her hair falls over one shoulder, another heavy lock over her eyes.
I smile, moving up onto my knees and reach for her. “To shatter every one of your defenses.”

But most of the voices, particularly Rebecca’s, are really convincing, as are those of the side characters, and Andrea, Michael’s grieving, angry, scared little daughter is a very realistic, very unsickly sweet child. I felt her pain very clearly, and Rebecca’s, and her struggle to accept the terrible events in her short life and the loss of her Daddy, are neither easy nor patly disposed of. Andrea’s a triumphant creation, a rare child character who doesn’t make me want to kick small helpless creatures in frustration.

All the characters in this, minor or major – even the dead ones – are vividly drawn and engrossing, even when not particularly likable or admirable. The late and much beloved Alex is very much part of this story, and I loved how his memory wasn’t brushed aside even slightly by those who knew him. It pissed me off that barely a year after his death, Rebecca was nagging Michael to take off his commitment ring (though her reasons for doing so are reasonable.) It’s way too soon. And that leads me to the other main problem I had with the story – Michael is still grieving too hard, and he’s too self-absorbed, to be able to take on someone like Rebecca with all her very real problems. The man is still falling apart almost to the end of the story, and all I could think was, this relationship won’t last, for all Rebecca and Andrea’s bonding. To be frank, Michael’s a bit on the selfish side, and if he couldn’t pull himself together for his daughter’s sake, I had my doubts that he could do it for Rebecca.

But even with that caveat, it’s still a wonderful novel. If nothing else, read it for Rebecca, who is a terrific female character, coming through a horrendous attack and then vile treatment by her then lover. That she copes as well as she does is shown to come from her inner strength, and not just told to us as a fact. Each step in her recovery is hard won, and when she falters, you are made to understand why, just as you are compelled to cheer when she picks herself up.  Her voice, her chapters, are solidly written – actually, the writing is damn solid all the way through, wobbles in Michael’s voice aside.

It’s a very layered story, with intersections between grief and family and loss and self-image beautifully done, as is Michael’s and his friends’ struggle to accept his new relationship with a woman which, though it ironically makes his life easier in some ways, he resists because he thinks it’s a betrayal of Alex and all they had together. Attitudes towards homosexuality and bisexuality were shown authentically, even when it made the characters express them seem unsympathetic. This is not OK-Homo world in the least, and the portrayal of true bisexuality in this story makes it a rare entry for us at UP, as is the handling of children in a gay relationship.

I could dissect this novel for hours, but in the end, my advice would be to just read it. It will haunt you and move you, and is very highly recommended indeed.