The Life Cycles
Of Butterflies

Judy Burris
Wayne Richards

It's subtitled From Egg to Maturity, a Visual Guide to 23 Common Garden Butterflies, but I'm not so sure it helps. Butterflies' taste-buds are in their feet, not in the mouth where they rightly belong. They spend altogether too much of their life as a caterpillar that gets gooshy when you step on it and their closest relatives are ants and fleas. Part of their lives is as a moveless knob, known as a chrysalis, hanging from a leaf. It ain't much to look at --- at worst, it's disgusting, menacing. [See Fig. 1].

On top of that, butterflies are nature's preternatural molesters: sometimes the male will spot a female at the point when she is about to crawl her way out of her chrysalis, and he'll tear open a hole and ravish the poor unborn creature right then and there.

Even in the first stage of their lives, caterpillars create a stinky mess. One photograph here shows Pipevine Swallowtail infants having a picnic lunch consuming their own filthy eggshells. Eeech.

Their eating habits are gross as their anatomy: when these characters are preparing to disappear in the chrysalis, they spend all the time swilling food, complete with little wormy burps, not pausing to wipe their mandibles or pass the butter. To up the revolting ante, they will molt at the drop of a hat.

Here you are, observing, perhaps communing with, a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar, and he stops right then and there, and takes off his clothes, and leaves them behind as he moseys off to a Fritillary costume party, complete with false eyespots ("the better to see you with my dear"), hidden heads, and five sets of fake legs --- known in the butterfly business as "prolegs."

They don't hang out in this vale of tears very long. Tell me now, is a mere two or three weeks of the raving beauty of the Silvery Checkerspot, the Clouded Sulphur, the Painted Lady(!), or the Question Mark (??) really worth it? They can't be very bright, except in coloration, since too many of them end up bashing themselves against the grille of my old Ford pick-up.

The dining spots of these winged creatures are no better than their wiggly predecessors, no Michelin stars here. They dine on the Paw-Paw tree, the False Nettle, the Artemisia, and the Aster! (My friend Peter had two ducks; one was named Aster. The other: Disaster.)

Obviously Judy Burris and Wayne Richards know more than you and I could ever possibly want to know about the Cabbage White. They tell us that once they found a chrysalis hooked to their glass patio door, and they did not want to disturb the baby so they didn't even open it until the butterfly put in its appearance.

Me? If I had one of those babies on the porch, I would take it out and glue it to the plane tree in my front yard, just so it would, in the future, stop leaving its babies around for me to step on.

--- Tomas O'Rourke

Philip Roth
George Guidall,

(Recorded Books)
Be you neuer so gay
Ye thynke synne in the begynnynge full swete
Whiche in the ende causeth the soule to wepe
Whan the body lyeth in claye.
John Skot, 1521-1537?
He has six stents jammed in his arteries, a defillibrator stuck in his upper chest, three ex-wives, countless ex-lovers, and a thousand regrets. He was born in New Jersey in 1933 and is now nearing death. And he thinks about it, apparently, as much as he thinks about cheating on wife #2, wondering why his sons don't care for him (and why his daughter does).

Roth --- who, they say, hates talking about his books as much as he hates book critics --- did give an interview last year on Everyman:

    You know, passion doesn't change with age, but you change --- you become older. The thirst for women becomes more poignant. And there is a power in the pathos of sex that it didn't have before. The pathos of the female body becomes more insistent. The sexual passion is always deep, but it becomes deeper.

The word "everyman" appears but twice inside the cover of this book: on the title page, and as the name of a jewelry store, the one that belonged to the subject's father ... a place 15 feet wide, 40 feet deep, on the streets of Elizabeth, N. J., where the old man "gave credit to everyone" and liked to hire "good Catholic girls" because he thought the non-Jewish customers wanted to be waited on by them.

The father and mother were the stalwarts of WWII America: stolid, responsible. Father runs the jewelry store, mother runs the house, the kids do errands, transporting jewelry back and forth for the store. Says Howie of his brother,

    He loved being only nine years old and carrying the diamonds in an envelope in his jacket pocket onto the bus to Newark, where the setter and the sizer and the polisher and the watch repairman our father used each sat in a cubbyhole of his own, tucked away on Frelinghuysen Avenue. Those trips gave that kid enormous pleasure. I think watching these artisans doing their lonely work in those tight little places gave him the idea for using his hands to make art. I think looking at the facets of the diamonds through my father's jewelry loupe is something else that fostered his desire to make art.

§     §     §

Philip Roth being Philip Roth, it seems that some critics were expecting maybe a wrinkled version of Portnoy's Complaint. But this one is not about a frustrated, jerk-off kid and his psychiatrist. It is about you and me and every man and every woman getting old, losing our beauty, regretting some of the choices we've made, living with a body that is going awry, being envious of those who are still healthy.

Too, there is astonishment that --- when we see a young runner going down the boardwalk in her tanktop, and --- we find ourselves getting aroused, trying (comically, in some batty way) to seduce her, the twenties-something lovely: sweating, nice eyes, perfect body.

And you seventy.

April and December.

§     §     §

The man of this book has two sons --- strong, healthy, successful, who loathe him, even though he wonders how they could ever expect him not to change. With surprise, he thinks on Anne, his daughter, who somehow manages to continue to care for him, after all the turmoil he (and she) went through when he left her mother for that Danish model.

There is all-enveloping loneliness, now, knowing that the games played so well to evade isolation when thirty or forty or fifty no longer work, that he (and we) have, in the process, made ourselves a desert ... where friends up and die on us, without our permission, making us even more uneasy. One of his old work buddies is dying of cancer; another is getting senile; a woman he picks up in his art class kills herself because of the pain. "Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre," Roth opines.

§     §     §

In the interview he gave to journalist Martin Krasnik in Denmark last year, Roth said that he would like to shoot all reviewers. He also said, about this book, just then being delivered to the publisher:

    The classic is called Everyman. It's from 1485, by an anonymous author. It was right in between the death of Chaucer and the birth of Shakespeare. The moral was always "Work hard and get into heaven," "Be a good Christian or go to hell."

    Everyman is the main character and he gets a visit from Death. He thinks it's some sort of messenger, but Death says, "I am Death" and Everyman's answer is the first great line in English drama: Oh, Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind. When I thought of you least.

    My new book is about death and about dying.

The critics have all assumed that the central character here is either Roth or Everyman. I doubt it. The real Everyman is probably his father, the unassuming jeweler on Frelinghuysen Avenue in Newark, who named his store Everyman's Jewelry. He was a straight-forward man, much closer to our medieval hero, one who assumes that all our burdens and all our woes go with the territory, who (apparently) thinks more about family and job than Whan the body lyeth in claye. For him, the appearance of death comes when least expected. Not so for our seventy-year-old unheroic hero who mulls on it and body losses, endlessly, to the point of wretched excess.

One critic lamented that this volume was like a dirge. Another said it was too preoccupied with sickness and death. Obviously these are punks in their early forties and fifties. For Everyman is an elegant dessert presented to us, at the table, perhaps a last supper, by the master chef, one who knows how to plant drama and delight and a special sullen truth.

We find our storied character, at the very last, just before the fatal operation, in the graveyard, talking to the bones of his mother and father, thinking on his youth, the power, when he was but fourteen, coming in on the Jersey shore,

    the longing for the best of boyhood, for the tubular sprout that was then his body and that rode the waves from way out where they began to build, rode them with his arms pointed like an arrowhead and the skinny rest of him following behind like the arrow's shaft, rode them all the way in to where his rib cage scraped against the tiny sharp pebbles and jagged clamshells ... and he hustled to his feet .... and went lurching through the low surf ... into the advancing, green Atlantic, rolling unstoppably toward him like the obstinate fact of the future.

§     §     §

George Guidall, the reader on this Recorded Books version, is perfect for the job: old, whiskery voice, voice filled with the song of the Atlantic coast, perhaps New Jersey, perhaps not too far from Newark, certainly not far at all from Roth.

--- Paul F. Wright, PhD

Wolf Point
Edward Falco
(Unbridled Books)
Tom Walker is fifty-seven, has gone through a couple of marriages, made money in his boring business, and has just been busted for having child pornography on his computer.

When asked by the police why he had downloaded it, he said "The picture is interesting." The policewoman interviewing him "slaps him hard across the cheek." He thinks, "But this is a picture. I was fascinated by a picture."

    There's an important difference, In the real world it's terrible, it's a crime; but this is an image, a powerful, troubling, resonant image that reaches some place deep and disturbing.

Tom, or "T" as he is called throughout the novel, is thus a person who, one might say, thinks too much, certainly thinks curiosity is somehow apart from reality. He believes, unlike most, that to think is not to do. And thus his problems begin.

After his release, he is driving "his new Land Rover" in New York State, and spots a couple hitchhiking: a lovely young girl and "completing the warning image, the only-a-fool-would-stop vignette, an older, long-haired black-leather-jacket-clad boy." Once again, he is confusing curiosity with the real world. He is downloading (or, better, uploading) another bizarre set of circumstances to complicate his life.

The three of them go to a deserted cabin on the St. Lawrence Seaway owned by Jenny's uncle. She tries to seduce T, but he can't seem to get it up. Les, her "boyfriend" --- turns out he's her cousin --- is on crank. Jenny and Les say they are on the lam from a southern "crank conglomerate."

Jenny's career of choice is lap-dancing. Les wants to be an actor, and he does act out, with a knock-out performance, using his .45, plugging T in the shoulder. Instead of stealing the Land-Rover and getting the hell out with Jenny, he takes her and the nearly unconscious Tom down to a motor-boat so "we can go fishing." The three of them are thus cast out, at nightfall, into the middle of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

§     §     §

Wolf Point, after its initial thirty pages or so, becomes hard to put down, at least for this reader. It isn't just the plot line of three very different people in a No Exit situation. Rather, it is the playing out of a puzzle that not only Tom and Jenny and Les have, but all of us have: how can we know people we meet, travel with, live with, sleep with --- people we've never met before? How are we to trust them?

One of my psychiatrists said that we are all acting out narrative stories in (and of) our lives. But can you and I trust other peoples' histories, as they tell them? (Or, as important, the stories they choose not to tell us.)

Les claims to have ripped off the Crank King. Jenny's mother, we are told, murdered a man who was molesting her. She became a stripper to pay for her mother's defense. These are people Tom has never met before. They tell him the truths that they think he want to hear --- he is rich; they rarely meet rich people, especially one so apparently innocent --- vide The Idiot by Doestevsky.

You and I can get in terrible trouble, as Tom did, by confusing a natural curiosity with observing the forbidden. We can get trampled (and jailed and shot) by not figuring out the limits --- that thin line between what one might wonder about against what one actually does. Especially when we are seeking out, find ourselves captured with the very dangerous vs. the intellectually fascinating.

--- Sybil Sergeant
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