Aimee Bender still has her baby blanket, kept safely in a drawer. “I didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. There’s also a significant rock or two, from childhood. “Each move I just sort of dutifully pack it up and move it. You keep the rock. But it’s not like I’m spending any time with it. it’s just sitting on my dresser.”
That’s the thing about childhood memories and objects: It’s impossible to let them go, but their power can be mysterious. In Bender’s new novel, “The Butterfly Lampshade,” the main character, Francie, is a child when her mother’s psychosis becomes acute enough that Francie is sent off to live with her aunt, uncle, and newborn cousin. As she grows, she keeps returning to three specific memories when objects — a butterfly, a beetle, a rose — seemed to act in ways that blurred the line between reality and imagination.
The line between a vivid imaginative life and active psychosis is actually quite thick, Bender added. But in families where someone has serious mental illness, “there’s the worry that it’s going to cross that line,” Bender said. “There was this idea in the book about wanting to think about all these different types of minds occupying the same family.”
In particular, the minds of children fascinate Bender. “I’m so interested in kids,” she said, “I tried to remember that kind of super-acute focus that children have but often don’t have language for.” As an adult, Francie finds forgotten objects at yard sales and repurposes them for sale to others. “I wanted to think about our relationships to objects and how we lose touch with them, and they get sort of orphaned,” she said. “What brings them to life again. It’s so fun to think about.”
Aimee Bender will read in a virtual event 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 11, hosted by Harvard Book Store. Visit harvard.com/events for more details.
Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at email@example.com.