Sometimes a simple loving story can move one to tears. Sometimes that story can make you feel the love flowing from the words the author has placed upon a page. Sometimes a story can be peacefully told, wonderfully stated, and make the reader very glad they picked up a book.
When this book was recommended by Ann Patchett in the her newsletter, I knew I had to read it. And am I glad I did! My friend Marialyce and I read this together and it gave us much to discuss and ponder.
Peg and Lyle are a hard-working salt of the earth couple. They live in a small town in rural Wisconsin where everyone knows their neighbor and they help each other out when trouble strikes. They live simple, contented lives. The story is told mainly from Lyle’s POV. As his inner life and struggles are revealed, I found him relatable even though we live very different lives.
These are characters that are so well developed I felt as if I knew them. The supporting characters are wonderful as well, especially Lyle’s lifelong friend, Hoot. I just loved him! Their relationship epitomized what it means to have a friend and be a friend.
Years ago, after the devastating death of an infant son, Peg and Lyle adopted a daughter, Shiloh. After her tumultuous teenage years, she left home but returned years later with her 5 year old son, Isaac. Isaac is the apple of his grandparent’s eye and they enjoy a very close relationship, one that warmed this grandmother’s heart.
But trouble is brewing. When Shiloh falls under the spell of the preacher of a radical “church” who believes in faith healing instead of medical care, Peg and Lyle fear for their grandson’s life when he falls ill. The dilemma of what to do provides much of the tension in the book. How far can and should grandparents go to intervene? There are no easy answers, and risks with any option. Knowing this story was inspired by a true event (described in the afterward) made it even more meaningful.
Beautifully written and told over the course of a year, this book affected me deeply. It’s a story of family and friendship, parenting and grand parenting, love and life, faith and doubt, aging and illness.
Thought-provoking and powerful, this story resonated deeply with me. It’s one of those quiet novels that has a lot going on under the surface and is quite deep.
Highly recommended! This would make an excellent book club choice.
It is often difficult to look back upon a life and see all its pitfalls and unhappiness. However, for Lyle Hovde, and his wife Peg their life seems one of contentment. Their daughter, adopted when she was just days old is home again with her six year old son, Issac. The Hovde’s had lost their son to illness when he was just a baby so they doted on Issac. It is Issac’s grandfather through which this story is mostly told, and he adores Issac. Peg is a religious god fearing woman while Lyle has issues and doubts about faith and the church’s teachings. Lyle is a good man and tries to reconcile what he feels but when his daughter Shiloh, a difficult person in her attitudes and previous behavior, joins a church that has questionable tenets, Lyle becomes immersed in a struggle that is sad and overwhelming.
As Shiloh becomes more involved in the church and its pastor, Steve, she moves away from the loving protection of her parents taking Issac with her and ultimately forbidding Lyle from having contact. It’s a hard blow to Lyle and he suspects, especially with Issac being diagnosed with diabetes, that there is something quite amiss with this new church and Pastor Steve. It is Pastor Steve’s belief that six year old Issac is a healer, that he is able to lay his hands upon an ill person and they will feel better. There seems to Lyle, something sinister and evil about Steve, but his daughter is enamored and immune to Steve’s possible ills and places her son in his care and guidance. Bad things seem to be in the future for Lyle, Peg, and the two they love. Is there a way out of this dilemma or are Lyle and Peg never to be that wonderful integral part of Issac’s life they one envisioned?
This was a beautifully told story, evocative of a well drawn character study that places the protagonists forefront in the reader’s mind. Mr Butler allows us into the heart and soul of characters who deeply care for one another and through the images of the passing of the seasons, he paints a picture of love, loss, and faith. Protecting the ones you love is often difficult, but it is a journey we all travel and a job we all take into our hearts. Recommended to those who so enjoy a wonderfully written, beautifully portrayed story with characters that work their way into your soul and heart.
Jan and I once again were able to share this story. We both were amazed that this simply told tale reflected so much upon the struggles so many have with their faith, their family relationships, and the connection between grandchildren and their grandparents.
and here’s the author:
Nickolas Butler was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. His first novel was the internationally best-selling and prize-winning Shotgun Lovesongs, which has been optioned for film development and has been translated into ten languages. Beneath the Bonfire, a collection of short stories, followed a year later. In 2017, he published The Hearts of Men which was short-listed for two of France’s most prestigious literary prizes even before its American publishing. In 2019, his fourth book, Little Faith was published, and he is already at work on another novel, this one set in the mountains of the American West. Butler is the recipient of many literary prizes and commendations and has published articles, reviews, short stories, and poetry in publications such as: Ploughshares, Narrative, and The New York Times Book Review, to name a few. Prior to publishing Shotgun Lovesongs, Butler worked a long list of jobs including: coffee roaster, liquor store clerk, office manager, hot-dog vendor, author escort, meat-packer, bed-and-breakfast manager, telemarketer, and Burger King maintenance man. He is married and lives with his wife and two children on sixteen acres of land adjacent to a buffalo farm in rural Wisconsin.