Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

A Small Hotel

A Novel

by Robert Olen Butler

“A sleek, erotic, and suspenseful drama . . . 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)

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date July 10, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4583-3
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler’s books have explored topics as considerable and diverse as hell, extraterrestrials, and Vietnam. His acclaimed twelfth novel, A Small Hotel, chosen for O: The Oprah Magazine‘s summer reading list, offers a more intimate scope as it chronicles the complexities of a disintegrating relationship over the course of twenty years.

Set in contemporary New Orleans but working its way back in time, A Small Hotel follows the lives of Michael and Kelly Hays, a couple on the brink of divorce. On the day the Hayses are due in court to finalize their separation, Kelly drives from her home in Pensacola and across the panhandle to New Orleans. She checks into room 303 at the Olivier House in the city’s French Quarter—the hotel where she and Michael fell in love, and where she must now contemplate a startling decision that will hold devastating consequences for her family, including her nineteen-year-old daughter. Butler masterfully weaves scenes of the present with memories from the viewpoints of both Michael and Kelly—scenes that span two decades, taking the reader back to critical moments in the couple’s relationship and revealing a passionate love tragically undone by miscommunication and insecurity.


“Fascinating . . . [An] intense portrayal of the collapse of a marriage . . . [that] delivers a surprising charge.” —Jane Smiley, The Washington Post

“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

“Skillful . . . Absorbing . . . Wise and painfully realistic . . . A novel of ideas, an interrogation of the limitations and uses of language.” —Joanna Smith Rakoff, The New York Times Book Review

“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 skillfully sets up expectations only to twist them, and twist them again. Words said and unsaid can change everything in an instant.” —Colette Bancroft, The San Jose 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 . . . similar 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)

“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.” —Sally Cobau, New World Reviews

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

“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


An O Magazine Summer Reading Pick
A 2011 SIBA Summer Okra Pick


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 swerves her basic-black Mercedes into the valet spot, thumps hard into the curb, and pops the gearshift into park, and then she feels a silence rush through her chest and limbs and mind that should terrify her. But she yields to it. She brings her face forward and lays her forehead gently against the steering wheel. She sits in front of the Olivier House on Toulouse Street in the New Orleans French Quarter, a hotel she knows quite well.

Like this present silence overcoming the welter in her, before she stepped from her house in Pensacola a little over three hours ago she yanked her hair back into a ponytail and simply stroked a hasty touch of lipstick onto her lips but she then was moved to put on her favorite little black dress, a sleeveless sheath, a prêt-á-porter Chanel she’d had for years, put it on slowly in the muffled silence of her walk-in closet, listening to the Chanel’s faint rustle going over her, letting the silk lick her down the thighs. She turned forty-nine years old two months ago on her deck, alone with a single-malt, looking out at the Bayou Texar going dark in the twilight.