Thursday, March 28, 2019

Book Review: "Little Faith" by Nickolas Butler

"How do you disagree with someone you love so fiercely?"

By and large, life has been good to Lyle Hovde. While he and his wife, Peg, dealt with the crushing grief of losing their infant son, they had the good fortune of eventually adopting a baby girl, Shiloh.

The teenage years were difficult, and there was a period during which she was estranged from them, but now she has returned home to their rural Wisconsin town with her six-year-old son, Isaac, in tow.

Lyle and Peg are doting grandparents, and Isaac brings them so much joy and love, along with a spark of life and energy as they head into their golden years. But while they love spending time with Isaac, Lyle, in particular, has been growing concerned with Shiloh's deepening alliance with a new church, one run by a magnetic young preacher whose ideas tend toward the extreme.

Faith has been a troubling concept for Lyle since the death of his son many years before. He and Peg still attend the church they always have—the church they met at, in fact—but Lyle doesn't quite believe in a divine being, or the power of prayer. He finds comfort in the familiarity of being in the same place every Sunday, of watching those around him grow old like he is, but he doesn't have any use for the words being spoken or the prayers being uttered.

When Shiloh and Steven, the preacher of her church, believe that Isaac has the ability to heal people, Lyle knows that his daughter is being led astray. He sees Steven for whom he truly is, but he knows that rocking the boat at all with Shiloh may cause her to leave and take Isaac away from them. As Steven's hold on Shiloh intensifies, Lyle and Peg begin to fear for their daughter and grandson, and that Steven may use them for his purposes.

The shaky detente continues until Lyle and Peg realize that Isaac's life may be in danger because of his mother's beliefs, and the influence of Steven and those in the church. As much as they want to keep the peace with their daughter, they know they must do everything they can to fight for Isaac's safety, even if it means jeopardizing their relationship with Shiloh. They cannot bear the thought of losing another little boy.

Little Faith is the latest novel from one of my absolute favorite authors, Nickolas Butler. (His first two books, Shotgun Lovesongs and Beneath the Bonfire, are two of the best books I've read in years.) This is more than a story of parents forced to choose between their daughter and their grandson. It's a tremendously thought-provoking meditation on faith, the beauty of old friendships, and the enduring power of love.

I loved this book so much. This reminded me in some ways like a novel written by Kent Haruf or Leif Enger, in that I just found myself in awe of Butler's prose, his imagery, and his exceptional characters. The story feels familiar but I was totally invested because I found so many of the characters so appealing, like people I wish I knew. You know where the story is headed and you hope you're wrong, but you cannot tear yourself away.

There's an immense charm to books that take place in small, rural towns, especially when the author has respect for their characters. Little Faith is really a triumph of storytelling and quiet emotion, one that I'll be thinking about for a long time afterward.

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