Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, has become an international bestseller and won numerous accolades, including France's Prix PAGE/America. Now, in Beneath the Bonfire, he demonstrates his talent for portraying "a place and its people with such love that you'll find yourself falling for them, too" (Josh Weil, author of The Great Glass Sea).
Young couples gather to participate in an annual "chainsaw party," cutting down trees for firewood in anticipation of the winter. A group of men spend a weekend hunting for mushrooms in the wilderness where they grew up and where some still find themselves trapped. An aging environmentalist takes out his frustration and anger on a singular, unsuspecting target. One woman helps another get revenge against a man whose crime extends far beyond him to an entire community. Together, the ten stories in this dazzling, surprising collection evoke a landscape that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has traveled the back roads and blue highways of America, and they completely capture the memorable characters who call it home.
Though all 10 stories in Butler's (Shotgun Lovesongs) new collection may be populated by restless, contemplative, and hardscrabble characters, it's the sense of place (rural Wisconsin) and the natural world that's grounding the events. In the unforgettable opener, "The Chainsaw Soiree," a cherished recurring winter-solstice party ends up offering complicated betrayals and resentments among a group of friends and lovers. Trouble comes in a variety of forms for Butler's characters: the stoner mushroom hunters in "Morels" must process a fatality and its damning consequences; a soft-hearted, newly laid-off diabetic and his adoring wife fret about the future in "Apples"; in the title story, a bonfire on a frozen lake sets the scene for two scuba divers with a complex, sex-addicted history of "feeding each other nothing but motion and sweat." Some narratives have been gloriously expanded into fully molded works of art, while others are mere portraits, short yet no less poignant, such as "Rainwater," in which a grandfather raises his grandson after his junkie mother disappears without a trace. Sensitive to the human condition, Butler continues to demonstrate his impressive command of atmosphere and humanity.
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Beautifully written collection of American midwestern short stories
Beneath the Bonfire: Stories is a collection of ten short stories with a weaving of common threads: all the tales are set in the midwest, nature plays an important role, and the characters are beautifully painted with colorful brushstrokes and definitive lines. I enjoyed some stories more than others, but together they all created a complete picture. Butler writes with an easy, poetic style, capturing the reader's nostalgic imagination.