Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Review: "Beneath the Bonfire: Stories" by Nickolas Butler

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Nickolas Butler's Shotgun Lovesongs made my list of the best books I read last year. He imbued his characters with emotion, complexity, and an amazing sense of place. I absolutely loved the way he told a story. So needless to say, when I saw he had a short story collection coming out later this year, I jumped on it as quickly as I possibly could. And the good news? Beneath the Bonfire is just about as good as Butler's first book, and his writing is still pretty fantastic.

The characters in Butler's 10 stories are all struggling in one way or another. They're struggling to find or keep love; they're struggling with the circumstances they've found themselves caught up in; they're struggling with family, friends, emotions, illness, even loneliness. These are stories which will make you feel, make you think, make you laugh, and perhaps even make you cry. (Or maybe that's just because I'm a sap.)

I honestly loved 9 of the 10 stories, and would love to read a full-length novel with the characters from many of them. There's the man struggling to keep his unexpected family intact despite the emotional instability of his girlfriend in "Train People Move Slow"; the story of childhood friends living very different lives in "Morels"; the policewoman fighting demons both real and unreal in "In Western Counties"; the grandfather wondering if he might need to be a parent again in "Rainwater"; and the beautiful poignancy, restlessness, and desperation described in both "The Chainsaw Soirée" and the fantastic title story.

This collection reinforces my belief that Butler is a writer to be reckoned with. If there's a downside to reading this collection a few months before it is to be released, it's that I'll have to wait even longer for his next book. But don't you wait—read Shotgun Lovesongs, and then wait for Beneath the Bonfire. Hopefully you'll be as blown away, and as touched, as I have been.

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