Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Small Hotel

One of those authors who's always been on my "to read" list is Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler. I'm glad that I didn't wait for retirement to get to him. Reviews, not to mention the cover, of A Small Hotel, beckoned to me. I finished it this morning and had to write immediately.

The Olivier House in New Orleans, room 306, has been a refuge for Kelly and Michael since their first encounter twenty years ago, a crazy Mardi Gras night when Kelly, disguised as Catwoman, strayed from her friends and wandered into a dangerous situation.
Michael could have come off as a caricature of the tall, dark stranger swooping in to rescue the damsel in distress but in Butler's capable hands it feels not only plausible but so right that he would take Kelly back to room 306 and offer to give her privacy for the evening until she regains a sense of safety and trust.

In fact, trust is a major player in this tight little novel of a relationship in which the words unsaid threaten to unravel the finely honed agreement between husband and wife, between father and daughter, that has been forged from one generation to the next. "I love you." Three little words fraught with meaning. Do we say them so often that they lose their power to convey their depth? Or do we withold the words to avoid losing ourselves in someone else?

Butler teaches creative writing at FSU, a coup for that university for sure! I read the first sentence of the book and was caught up in the pleasure of the words. "On the afternoon of the day when she fails to show up in a judge's chambers in Pensacola to finalize her divorce, Kelly Hays........" The entire novel will take place over the course of one evening in room 306 where Kelly will relive the highs and lows of her marriage to Michael, who is reliving the same, though he is in another hotel with another woman only fifty miles down the road.

This book, in only 239 pages, manages to beautifully convey the complications, the baggage we now call it, that we take from our childhoods, store away in our psyches, and unconciously unpack in our adulthood, thwarting our ability to make connections. When you think about it, it's a miracle that there are as many fulfilling relationships as there are out there and that we continue to try, in the face of daunting odds, proves the old adage that hope springs eternal. For more on Robert Olen Butler check out his website at

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