Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: A Small Hotel

Author: Robert Olen Butler  

Title: A Small Hotel

Description (source): Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler has written fiction about far-ranging topics including hell, extraterrestrials, and the Vietnam War. With A Small Hotel, his twelfth novel, he has turned his attention to a new topic—the complexities of a male-female relationship—and delivers a beautifully told story of love, loss, and redemption.

Set in contemporary New Orleans but working its way back in time, A Small Hotel chronicles the relationship between Michael and Kelly Hayes, who have decided to separate after twenty years of marriage. The book begins on the day that the Hays are to finalize their divorce. Kelly is due to be in court, but instead she drives from her home in Pensacola, Florida, across the panhandle to New Orleans and checks into Room 303 at the Olivier House in the city’s French Quarter—the hotel where she and Michael fell in love some twenty years earlier and where she now finds herself about to make a decision that will forever affect her, Michael, and their nineteen-year-old daughter, Samantha.

Butler masterfully weaves scenes of the present with memories from both the viewpoint of Michael and Kelly—scenes that span twenty years, taking the reader back to critical moments in the couple’s relationship and showing two people deeply in love but also struggling with their own insecurities and inabilities to express this love.

An intelligent, deeply moving, and remarkably written portrait of a relationship that reads as a cross between a romance novel and a literary page turner, A Small Hotel is a masterful story that will remind readers once again why Robert Olen Butler has been called the “best living American writer” (Jeff Guinn, Fort Worth Star-Telegram). (Marketing copy)

Review source: netgalley

Plot: There’s nothing extraneous in the plot of this book, which I read in an evening. The novel centers tightly around the two protagonists; even their daughter only appears in a couple of scenes. Nonetheless, once I realized what Kelly was up to, I couldn’t put the book down.

Characters: Michael and Kelly are the married/divorcing couple. The only other characters are their daughter and their extramarital love interests—Michael’s new girlfriend is a fairly prominent character. Both Michael and Kelly are sympathetic and I was rooting for both of them. Nonetheless, I found it difficult to believe that any man could really be as clueless/messed up as Michael.

Writing style: This is my first novel by Butler. He tells the story from both Kelly’s and Michael’s points of view, and there are lots of flashbacks (note: in my galley copy on kindle, flashbacks sometimes occurred without even a paragraph break, making it a little hard to follow sometimes. I hope that will be fixed in the final copy!)

Audience: I would call this literary fiction, though I would think it would be less likely that a man would pick it up (or enjoy it).

Wrap-up: Much of the book is set in the French Quarter and around New Orleans; since I was just there a week ago, I really enjoyed the setting; Butler captured the French Quarter very well. I had to read this book in one sitting, which is unusual for me, so that gives it extra points. 4/5*

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