A SMALL HOTEL, Robert Olen Butler’s latest novel, is an engaging history of a married couple’s relationship with an unconventional format. Throughout the book, the reader is carried into different periods in Kelly and Michael’s life together, from their meeting at Mardi Gras to the beginning of divorce proceedings. The memories described are complemented with flashes of the present. Butler’s ability to engage the reader with his rich descriptions and smooth transitions is evident here.
"A SMALL HOTEL is a powerful statement about human nature."
Another noteworthy aspect of A SMALL HOTEL is Butler’s unique writing style. At first, I was taken aback by the long, prosaic descriptions that struck me as similar to that of Hemingway. As the story progressed, the flow of the sentences grew familiar and enhanced the desperation apparent throughout.
The plot of the story is generally satisfying. The ups and downs of Kelly and Michael’s relationship are not only sympathetic, but also emotionally stirring. Though I found the manner in which they met a bit ridiculous, their passion and dissention are very relatable.
Kelly and Michael, at first, have a fairy-tale relationship that isn’t quite realistic. Michael swoops in as the knight in shining armor to spare Kelly the humiliation of ogling drunkards at Mardi Gras. As sweet as that is, it makes the reader question the likelihood of this actually happening. Similarly, Michael saves Kelly from overdose. While this illustrates the strength of his residual feelings for her, the effect is a bit cheesy.
Everything between these events is a gradual deterioration. Michael and Kelly are just not getting what they need from each other, causing issues to ensue. Kelly is shown (in the present) emoting about what went wrong, all of which is very vividly described.
Overall, the story is cute and enjoyable. The depth of the descriptions makes the emotional undertones very evident; moving on (or not) is the main theme here. Michael gives up a shot at a new relationship for a valiant attempt to save his wife. This seems almost symbolic of Michael’s need to preserve the once-happy past. He cannot escape his memories, and thus must emulate them. A SMALL HOTEL is a powerful statement about human nature.
Reviewed by Joni Kretzmer on August 12, 2011
A Small Hotel