john nichols, best known for his Mexican trilogy, including The Milagro Beanfield War, and for The Sterile Cuckoo, pushes political commentary to the limit in The Voice Of The Butterfly, a wildly surreal tale of radical activism.Charley the librarian has been handing out leaflets since 1965. Nobody likes him much, least of all the running dogs of capitalism he's trying to prevent from building a highway bypass that will render extinct a rare species of butterfly called the Rocky Mountain Phistic Copper.
His Butterfly Coalition includes the nonagenarain Lydia, whose property is at stake, the intrepid journalist Susan, Charley's liquor-pickled ex-wife, Kelly, and his punker son, Luther.
Together they deface billboards, campaign door-to-door, rehabilitate the editor of the local newspaper and take over the radio airwaves in an effort to shut down the bypass project.
Nichols -- whose style recalls ex-Village Voice columnist Jill Johnston by way of Tom Robbins -- unravels a rip-roaring, highly original yarn laden with hyperbole and purposefully ludicrous metaphors, dripping with sarcastic invective, all delivered via a rambling, run-on style that bursts with energy.
Naturally, Charley's political enemies are grotesque caricatures of greedy swine, but his like-minded loser cronies aren't exactly user-friendly either. Kelly's got brains, but they've been bombed out by booze, Luther's got major abandonment issues, and Charley himself, like so many 60s radicals, hasn't quite yet shed his misogyny. But Nichols's relentless rap on and references to global politics from the 60s to the present will thrill anyone who's ever taken to the streets -- even lapsed lefties -- and a late twist in the plot re-establishes the author's cred.
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THE VOICE OF THE BUTTERFLY by John Nichols (Chronicle/Raincoast), 240 pages, $38.95 cloth. Rating: NNN