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A Small Hotel Hardcover – August 6, 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Piercing . . . Bristling with insight . . . Butler’s most impressive accomplishment lies in capturing the mingled emotions of anger, remorse, pain and even love that mark most divorces. . . . Honest and compassionate, Butler’s exploration of a marriage’s sundering is the work of a mature, reflective author.”—Harvey Freedenberg, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Intelligent, deeply moving . . . Remarkably written . . . 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, The Fort Worth Star Telegram

“[A] deliciously, unapologetically romantic novel . . . [Butler’s] empathetic, precise writing flirts with melodrama but never feels hackneyed. In less skillful hands, this story would be a guilty pleasure. Instead, it’s just a pleasure.” —O Magazine

"Richly observed . . . Butler's lucid writing style always conceals turbulent depths beneath a placid surface. He is, in fact, one of the boldest literary writers working today, willing to follow his imagination wherever it leads."—Chauncey Mabe, Sun Sentinel (Florida)

"Intriguing . . . Intricate . . . Butler skilfully sets up expectations only to twist them, and twist them again. Words said and unsaid can change eveything in an instant." Colette Bancroft, The Mercury News

“A sleek, erotic, and suspenseful drama about men who cannot say the word love and the women they harm . . . Butler executes a plot twist of profound proportions in this gorgeously controlled, unnerving, and beautifully revealing tale of the consequences of emotional withholding.”—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“With mesmerizing detail, Butler excavates layers of memory and illuminates moments of both tenderness and alienation.” —The New Yorker

“From each spouse’s point of view we witness the feelings that didn’t break the surface at the time, but never went away.” —The New York Times

“Butler . . . is masterful in the way he draws us into the hearts of his characters. . . . [He] gives the last pages of his quiet book the urgency of a thriller.” —Bookpage.com

“Engaging . . . Butler [has a] unique writing style . . . with rich descriptions and smooth transitions . . . similiar to Hemingway . . . A Small Hotel is a powerful statement about human nature.” —bookreporter.com

“Butler brings exquisite sensitivity to the details, unearthing them with the care of [a] good archaeologist.” —Karen Sandstrom, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Visions of the past arise in husband and wife on the brink of divorce, as metaphoric, coded conversations, minute gestures, and hurtful silences threaten grave consequences in this tightly focused, intensely imagined, masterfully omniscient novel. Robert Olen Butler understands the failings of men, and he understanding the failings of women just as well.”—Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue

“A Small Hotel is a gorgeous, hot-blade of a novel, infused with lyric grace—a page-turner that tracks the unexpected turns of a marriage. Reading it, I could not pull myself away. It is the story of a man and a woman—of love, betrayal and the cost of silence. Revelatory and precise, A Small Hotel is a gem of great literary fiction which contends that the life we live every day is not pedestrian, but charged, lucent. It can turn on a dime by what we say and what we fail to say.” —Dawn Tripp, author of Game of Secrets

“This tiny, romantic novel could be read at a single sitting, but it's best savored in small slices, accompanied by the quiet ticking of the heart. A marriage on the rocks, a race against time, the duel between past and present that exists in every living soul. As a woman, I particularly admired the portrayal of the husband, Michael, the type of silent man who is an enigma to women and a source of great pain in our relationships with him. Through Butler's insightful rendering, Michael's point of view came as a revelation.” —Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander

"Separation and the seemingly insurmountable divide between men and women provide the novel's strongest themes and they do so by unflinchingly illustrating the small moments that seem to come and go unnoticed—yet in the end define us."—Flavorpill (online)

“Intriguing . . . beautifully told.” —New York Journal of Books

"Slight, intense, elliptical, it's a book that requires concentration and forbearance. Brace yourself for the deep renderings of the slightest movement; stay still for the immersion in New Orleans. . . . Longing, desire, and silence are the subjects of A Small Hotel. . . . How strange I felt when I left the world of this book to return to the 'real world.' Somehow the world of this book seemed more authentic than the world I actually exist in."—New World Reviews

"Lyrical, haunting . . . Readers will be touched by [Butler's] careful exploration of . . . the human condition and how we relate to each other." —Curled up With a Good Book (blog)“[Robert Olen Butler] is an excellent chronicler of the small domestic moments that create and destroy love.” —Patricia Henley, Sycamore Review

About the Author

ROBERT OLEN BUTLER is the author of 11 novels and three story collections. In addition to a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 and a National Magazine Award in 2001 and 2005, he has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and an NEA grant, as well as the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Edition edition (August 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119872
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By TChris TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
On the day scheduled for their divorce hearing, Kelly Hays flees to a boutique hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans while Michael Hays drives west of the city to a plantation called Oak Alley. Kelly brings bottles of Macallan and Percocet with her: an ominous combination of traveling companions. Michael brings Laurie Pruitt, the younger woman he has started seeing. Both destinations trigger memories; more than once, Kelly and Michael stayed together at the same small hotel (including the day they met) and at the plantation (where they got married).

Kelly passes her time in and near the hotel by telling herself a silent story, beginning with a flashback to the Mardis Gras celebration where she first met (and was rescued by) Michael. She reflects upon "how abiding and deep an early impression we can draw of another person from a single, unexamined incident." Eventually that story moves on to another man in her life. In the meantime, Michael and Laurie attend a period party where Michael tries to stay in the moment, a task to which he is unsuited.

Few readers will like Michael although many will recognize in him some of the men they know. The women in Michael's life, those closest to him -- his wife, his daughter, his girlfriend -- never know what Michael is thinking. Michael compartmentalizes his thoughts, the better to ignore those that arise from emotions. Laurie is trying to figure out Michael's "silences and hard edges," still believes she can, believes Kelly simply didn't know how to love him. Laurie is waiting for "the nothing that is so often there" to "become a nuanced something." The reader gets the sense that Laurie will be following a dead-end path that Kelly has already traveled.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In Short: Robert O. Butler can be depended upon to write compelling well crafted prose. His command of the geography of his story is complete. To believe this particular story you have to believe that people will not talk to each other.

A married couple, who love each other are in the last stages of divorce. The reason for the divorce is that he does not know when she needs him to say what. She will not tell him when she needs him to say what. If she has to ask, it does not count. He was raised to not say these kinds of things. Each makes their case to the reader as the point of view switches between them.

While the back story given for each person is sufficient to make their respective weaknesses believable, the reader has to wonder: Why is it so hard to just speak up? Given that she is the person most deeply suffering, it is in her power to end her suffering by voicing her needs.

Indeed he has a new girl friend who is taken by his lack of romantic efusions. This opens a possible discussion that what makes this man attractive is his reticence, and that it is the women who want what they want until they want something else.

This is one of those stories where everyone has money, has safety has security has ready to hand material and personal support. There is just this one problem. It will drive her to suicide. He will spend most of the book oblivious. It is just possible that this couple simply has it too good. If, perhaps they were struggling to pay bills, or unfairly forced out of their community, they may have found that having to solve critical problems could have given them the trust to talk about this interior issue, or the perspective to ignore it.

Given my frustration with this book, I could rate it three stars.
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This absorbing novel takes a detailed look at a marriage from the inception of a relationship, through its high and low points, to its disintegration. Set mostly in New Orleans, it darts back and forth through time, sometimes in the course of one of the author's long, slippery, twisting paragraphs. We see this love affairs through the eyes of the two main protagonists, Kelly and Michael.

The book begins with Kelly, alone and desperate, checking into a hotel room in the Big Easy, a room we soon learn she's well acquainted with. It was to here she retreated 25 years ago during Mardi Gras, after being cornered by some drunken yahoos demanding to see her breasts. The chivalrous Michael, a strong silent type if ever there was one, steps in to save her. And thus begins their love affair. And it was to this same room that the couple returned year after year to celebrate their marriage.

Michael, as the book begins, is some 60 miles away escorting a much younger woman, Laurie, to some kind of theme reenactment weekend where everyone dressed up as if they were in "Gone with the Wind." How did Michael leave Kelly and wind up with Laurie? We find out as the plot develops.

It soon becomes clear that Michael, for reasons of his own, is "emotionally unavailable." He is simply incapable of mouthing the three small words essential to the proper nurturing of any successful romance and marriage. His stubborn refusal to express his feelings eat away at the relationship.

So here's the setup: Kelly is alone with a bottle of whiskey and 60 pills; Michael is with Laurie about to consummate. Both are beset by memories. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happens but I won't play the spoiler.

This book is well-written except when it's over-written.
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