Book Review—Flies on the Butter

Reviewed by Barbara Harper

Hildreth, Denise. Flies on the Butter. Nashville, WestBow Press, 2007. Paperback, 320 pp. $14.99.

(Review copy courtesy of Thomas Nelson)

Purchase: Thomas Nelson | CBD | Amazon

Preview chapter 1.

ISBNs: 1595542086 / 9781595542083

LCCN: PS3608. I424

DCN: 813.6

Subjects: Christian Fiction, South Carolina

Denise Hildreth (website) is a novelist and international speaker living in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of the Savannah Series and The Will of Wisteria. Flies on the Butter was featured in the May 2007 issue of Southern Living.

Rose Fletcher is an efficient, professional, chic, busy, tethered-to-her-Blackberry, high-profile career woman as a child advocate in Washington D.C. She has been keeping her distance from her Southern roots for several years, but a family emergency finally draws her back. The long drive back to South Carolina provides an opportunity for her to remember her upbringing and family. Several encounters with strangers also play a part in her train of thought and in her journey back to the Lord.

Rose’s history is revealed through a series of flashbacks. The early memories of her home seem happy and stable and warm, leaving us to wonder what the problem was and why she has so adamantly refused to go home. But bit by bit Rose must face what she has been avoiding. As Rose’s journey unfolds, both on the road and through her past, the layers of her well-put-together façade peel back to reveal her wounds and her need for forgiving and for forgiveness.

Though sometimes I felt a bit jerked back and forth between the present-day plot, the early childhood memories, and the more recent memories, I could visualize the story as a TV movie, fading from a scene of Rose driving to a sepia-toned distant memory.

One of the book’s strengths is the wonderfully descriptive passages, such as Rose’s first encounter with a partially frozen Coca-Cola. She also describes a diner where she “could hear the grease. It was sizzling. She could smell the grease. She was pretty certain it was bacon. And she could see the grease. Because everything shone with a light coating.” If you’ve ever had similar experiences, these and other descriptions will make you smile with their accuracy.

The author also portrays Southern culture well without overplaying into caricature.

Another strength of the book is the connection the author makes between Rose’s past and fears to the tightly wound perfectionist she has become.

One of the biggest weaknesses in the book, however, is the description of Rose’s salvation experience. She “felt something deep and rich and warm inside her” and “gave her heart to Jesus” in what sounds like a charismatic service after her grandmother “caught ahold of [the Holy Spirit]. Rosey had heard people pray in the Spirit on a few occasions, but never a person on whose lap her head was resting. So when the Holy Ghost made its way to their pew and Mamaw started praying in the Spirit, a current swept through Rosey’s entire body. It jolted her upright” (pp. 211-12). Someone who knows and understands the gospel could possibly be saved in such a situation, but otherwise a reader might confuse a genuine moving of the Lord with feeling jolted by a current. There is no mention in this particular scene of sin or forgiveness, though those ingredients appear in other places, particularly near the end.

Among those who pray for and influence Rose, the author includes people from a variety of religious backgrounds, even from those that primarily teach a works-based salvation.

Though I appreciate writer’s discretion in depicting sins (there are no steamy scenes), the novel mentions nudity on three occasions. One is from the lyrics of a song heard on the radio. The other two describe Rose waking up naked. On one of those occasions, the context has to do with Rose waking up and feeling alone and cold, so I feel sure nakedness was mentioned to emphasize the forlornness of her state at the time. But those references bring instant pictures to the mind that most Christian readers would rather not entertain. There’s nothing explicit beyond those references, but in my opinion, those references were unnecessary.

One Publisher’s Weekly review called this novel “predictable.” Reviewers often lay this charge against Christian fiction when the main characters need either to be saved or to surrender to the Lord somehow. But a predictable ending is not a bad thing in itself. After all, in a Western, we expect to see the good guys win. In a romance, we expect to see the couple come together. In a police or detective story, we expect the bad guy to get caught. In an epic quest, we expect the hero to face and overcome precarious obstacles. Knowing where a story will likely end up is not a problem: how the story gets there should be the interesting part.

Author Denise Hildreth certainly weaves an interesting tale, interlaced with humor and poignancy. Rose’s failure to “swat the flies” invading her life led to their taking over the whole picnic (p. 225). She eventually learns that she must “stop running from and start running to” the only One who can heal and forgive.

harper07.jpgBarbara Harper, who resides in South Carolina, has been married to Jim for 27 years and is the mother of three boys. In college, she majored in Home Economics Education and minored in English. A stay-at-home mom for 23 years, she keeps busy with her family, home, ladies’ group, and missionary activities at church. Her favorite hobbies are reading, writing, blogging, and crafting. Check out her blog.
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