‘Tinfoil Butterfly’ by Rachel Eve Moulton
Author: July Westhale
December 9, 2019
I look my mother in the eyes then and see her hurt. How deep it runs. How it has burned streaks of yellow into her irises and etched lines into her forehead. I see how easy it would be to fix her hurt. I could reach out and hug her or just relax my body so that she could wrap her arms around me. But I know that I am evil, that I invited it in a long time ago. And I wanted to hurt her.
Rachel Eve Moulton’s new novel, Tinfoil Butterfly, doesn’t follow any conventions; beginning somewhat in the middle, this mise en scene story follows Emma, a runaway, into a dark journey—through the trauma and illness that caused her to leave home, through her harrowing trip that lands her in a ghost town. During her travels, Emma befriends a trans child, Earl, who unwittingly becomes her beloved companion as they both complete their hero’s journeys to find a sense of family.
The idea of evil, and not-evil, isn’t something new in literature; it could be posited that this very dichotomy is what the canon is based off of, for time eternal. The same thing can be said of nature versus nurture. Emma and Earl are both children of dystopian landscapes—Emma, with her complex family dynamic and love for her step brother, and Earl, with his murderous step-father. Both are scrappy, resilient, flinty, and like-minded, with ample appreciation for the beauty inside the chaos.
This debut novel is braided together with so many invaluable tools for surviving trauma, and the end of times, through nontraditional relationships. Queerness is centered in this narrative like the prize jewel it is: hard won, and with incredible strength. When the entire world literally tries to burn the two protagonists to the ground, they double-down with their love for one another, sacrificing everything they can in order to find something better for themselves—and each other.
This story is a triumph, both of will and of craft. It is always vital to remember that queerness can be celebrated and fought for, and having novels that accomplish this with grace and aplomb make these stories timeless.
By Rachel Eve Moulton
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Paperback, 9780374538309, 264 pp.