Saturday, 24 October 2020

A Small Hotel

Finished October 13
A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler

Most of this book is set in New Orleans, around a couple's relationship. Michael and Kelly Hays have decided to divorce after twenty years of marriage. The main action takes place on the day that Kelly is supposed to go to court to sign the final divorce papers. But she doesn't go. Instead, she goes to the hotel in New Orleans where she and Michael began their relationship and where they have often visited since, always using the same room. But this time she is alone, and not in a good frame of mind. In her suitcase are alcohol and medication and it would seem that she has the intention of ending her marriage in a different way. 
Michael meanwhile is at a former plantation, now hotel, attending a formal event with a new woman. When he discovers that Kelly hasn't shown up in court, he is distracted.
Character is everything here, as we see how Michael's background, in particular his father's idea of masculinity, has shaped him as the reticent and stoic man that he now is. Kelly is naturally more demonstrative, but has also changed to accommodate Michael's demeanor in many ways. 
There are flashbacks to their life, beginning with their first encounter when Michael saved Kelly from a bad encounter on the street during Mardi Gras. We see how their relationship developed over the years, and how they married and made a life and a family together. We also see how the expectations that each of them have of relationships has shaped theirs, and created some underlying issues that have never been resolved. 
This book is one that made me ache for the characters, for the love that they were losing, despite the feelings on both sides. It is a story of failure to communicate, of words withheld, of feelings unexpressed. It is a story of people's insecurities about themselves and about the people they care about. Butler is an amazing writer and this book shows his skill.


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