The title of Denise Hildreth Jones's new novel, we are told on the book jacket, is based on a Wynonna Judd tune. In fact, the entire novel --- protagonist, plot and personae --- comes from "Flies on the Butter (You Can't Go Home Again)," which is about a woman remembering an "Old tin roof/Leaves in the gutter/A hole in the screen door as big as your fist, and flies on the butter." So those flies --- they're a consequence of the hole in the screen door! I smell foreshadowing…
Rose Fletcher has left the metaphorical screen door of her life wide open and let in plenty of pesky insects. After years as a successful and polished Washington lobbyist, she is estranged from most of her South Carolina family and separated from her loving husband because her fear of having a baby has pushed her into the arms of a conveniently adulterous senator. For reasons we're not meant to understand immediately, Rose is making a daylong drive back home and meeting real folks along the way --- a decent, honest and sincere recovering alcoholic mother; a decent, honest, sincere and meddling waitress; and even a decent, honest and sincere truck driver. Even Rose's secretary back in Washington is decent, honest and meddling, calling Rose's BlackBerry at frequent intervals to remind her that her behavior is really quite strange.
Well, yes, it's strange that a time-pressed philandering lobbyist would choose to drive instead of fly and that the same lobbyist, who is constantly donning silk camisoles beneath her expensive suits, would be as easygoing about eating a fried-chicken-and-chocolate-cream-pie lunch and then buying a bagful of candy. But we're meant to understand that all of this is bringing Rose closer to home and to her authentic self. I get it. I really do. But that's the problem --- we're given so many big clues about Rose's journey that its origins are as one-dimensional as lyrics on a page before they're brought to life through music and performance.
Despite this criticism, however, there are some positives to mention. First of all, FLIES ON THE BUTTER does include issues that aren't always addressed in Christian fiction, such as the aforementioned adultery, the use of contraception and the often-unwelcome pull of family and socioeconomic ties. Second, the title has multiple meanings that enhance Hildreth's Judd-rigged plot. Are the flies on the butter all about the messiness of home and family? Are they about the pesky ways Rose's long-unwanted past keeps buzzing around in her head in her buttery, luxurious, self-created existence?
Or are they those anonymous witnesses whom none of us ever know we meet? The man in the hotel room we never see who hears our cries of distress and prays for us. The tired woman who kneels beside a desk to offer up hope for our future. These are the unknown "flies" who sense that the richness of modern life may not be complete without a touch of God's natural creation. And while I know that now it's me, and not Hildreth, who is stretching a metaphor to its breaking point, it is in doing that stretch that I found the greatest value in her novel.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on February 13, 2007