The But­ter­flies of Grand Canyon by Mar­garet Erhart, The Pen­guin Group, 337 pages

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Su­san Mead­ows

Mar­garet Erhart’s new­est novel is part gen­tle com­edy of man­ners and part mur­der mys­tery— though the lat­ter is only a skele­ton on which to hang the for­mer, and a skele­ton is ex­actly the prob­lem: the one found in Emery Kolb’s garage, that is. But don’t ex­pect a thriller — the skele­ton has been there for 13 years, and no one seems in a hurry to call the po­lice. Be­cause the action— mov­ing roughly at the pace of a mule plod­ding up the Bright An­gel Trail— takes place in Grand Canyon Na­tional Park, po­lice may not even be the right word. An ag­ing botanist en­am­ored of her young mar­ried as­sis­tant solves the rather un­con­vinc­ing mys­tery of how the skele­ton got there, though she never learns— alas, we do— the even more ab­surd mo­tive for the crime. It is the 1950s, and But­ter­flies’ many char­ac­ters seem to all come in pairs— sib­lings, spouses, lovers, and friends. Their re­la­tion­ships are the cen­tral theme. Orig­i­nal and of­ten amus­ing di­a­logue re­gard­ing love and its pere­gri­na­tions casts some charm, as do the but­ter­flies of the ti­tle— al­though they mostly con­trib­ute strings of Latin names to the text, while their pur­suit pro­vides some com­edy. Erhart’s love and knowl­edge of the set­ting are pal­pa­ble, but I some­times lost pa­tience with her ten­dency to stack sim­i­les like im­pa­tient rafters wait­ing to put in at Lees Ferry, like thun­der­heads over the desert, like flap­jacks on a camper’s plate, like— well, you get the idea.

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