First Fiction Friday: Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams

Ceilidh Michelle’s debut novel Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams (Palimpsest Press) is a punk music, coming-of-age mashup about a young non-binary woman making music while contending with nepotism, friends with drug addiction, and her own personal growth. Below Palimpsest Press’ Abigail Roelens’ puts it well: “The novel has all the punk and circumstance to satisfy concert lovers, all the dramatic band dynamics to satisfy musicians, and all the character-driven plot to satisfy the general reader.” Read on for more about our debut pick.


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What: Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams (Palimpsest Press, 2019)Who: Ceilidh Michelle is a writer and musician based in Montreal.Why you need to read this now: Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams is a hazy, grunge-filled adventure through the Montreal punk scene. Yet, even in the fog of cigarette smoke, a reader can always find a thread of unrelenting humour and accuracy. The humour of the book cannot be understated. From the names of the bands (Heavy Cheddar, The Crying Dads, Milky Pete and the Mammograms, to name a few), to the name of the characters swirling through the scene (A Minor, Bamboo, Polka Dot), Michelle constructs a world that feels both familiar and absurd. Basically everything one could imagine about the hip music world comes alive and true in the novel; stereotypes of the down-and-out musician are made fresh and funny, and the great emotional range Michelle uses to tell her story serves to make the moments of hilarity more hilarious and the moments of sadness punch me directly in the throat.For me, the real hook was in the descriptions of the live shows and sets the bands performed. The description took all the humour and absurdity of the bands’ names and made it even more absurd. Heavy Cheddar throws cheese slices at the audience; The Crying Dads dress up in drag to perform. Reading each new show with each new act of performance put me in a place of disbelief. The performances are hilarious, creative, and fresh. While at the same time the shows are intriguing, showing exactly the creative lengths needed to go to stand out in the crowd, and even then, the performances aren’t far enough.While the humour provides a neat entry into the world, I stayed for the ruminations of B, the main character. B’s introverted and constant thinking opens up the questions of a woman’s place in this scene: a groupie, a lover, a performer, an enabler? The undercurrent of feminist questioning made this novel quite extraordinary for me because the questioning did not undermine the humour or the antics of the male characters, but instead it held them in stark contrast. The world B lives in is not the same world that Heavy Cheddar throws cheese slices in, and I appreciate Michelle’s focus on that feminist aspect throughout the novel.I’ve been recommending this book to my concert-hopping friends, my musician friends, and general reader friends. The novel has all the punk and circumstance to satisfy concert lovers, all the dramatic band dynamics to satisfy musicians, and all the character-driven plot to satisfy the general reader.Honestly, while I was reading this book, I felt the fusion of the boys from That Thing You Do! (you know, the super campy Tom Hanks movie), with the grit and grunge of Meet Me in the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman.Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams has all of the band relationship and creative process drama from That Thing You Do! but with the sex, drugs, rock and roll of Meet Me in the Bathroom. It felt as though the good boys from That Thing You Do! met in the bathroom maybe three too many times.
* * *Thanks to Abigail Roelens at Palimpsest Press for sharing Butterflies, Zebras, Moonbeams with us. For more First Fiction Friday,  click here.