The Divorce Book Following the Divorce: Robert Olen Butler’s ‘A Small Hotel’

Event: May 03, 2011

Dewberry and Butler, before the events that (may have?) spawed the novel
Dewberry and Butler, before the events that (may have?) spawed the novel

Robert Olen Butler’s new novel, A Small Hotel, follows the final falling-apart of a long marriage, set in a room in the Olivier House in the French Quarter—the couple had fallen in love in that hotel, and it’s where the wife returned the day before the divorce proceedings.

By all indications, it sounds like a solid book, praised by critics across the board (it’s on Oprah’s summer reading list), but those attentive to Butler’s personal trajectory might be unable to read it without the nagging recollection of his own (very public) divorce a few years ago from poet Elizabeth Dewberry.

An article from March in the LA Times ‘Jacket Copy’ section—which is still alive, despite the LA Times’ book review laying off all its freelancers—describes why A Small Hotel might be a bad idea: because it parallels somewhat closely Dewberry’s divorce of Butler, with hints of her childhood molestation by her grandfather, who apparently looked like Ted Turner, for whom Dewberry left Butler. This all came out via an elaborate email from Butler to a grad student that Gawker got ahold of and spread around the world. Yikes.


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