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A Small Hotel Hardcover – August 6, 2011
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"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 gracea 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 womanof 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 unnoticedyet 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
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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. What I cannot ignore is that Butler writes well. Systematically he explains why these people are the way they are. Their case is made by unfolding the story and building on the dramatic tensions and the interior life of these two people. No one is evil; each just is who they are.
As always, Butler knows New Orleans, the French Quarter and the region. If a character walks off Royal Street they do not arrive at the Lakefront. Somehow he can use light and sounds to invoke the geography of a place with the same facility as they alert you to the mood of the speaker.
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. It's well constructed and the characters feel real. It is a little corny and hackneyed -- but that's basically OK. And it feels a little bit too much written with Hollywood in mind. But for those who enjoy a nice sentimental saga, it's a pretty good bet.
Is it just me or wouldn't the ending have been more realistic if she had died, if she had died after contacting him, telling him she still loved him and that she was sorry, and that the "ending" was the affair and not the marriage?