Reviews

Beneath the Bonfire by Nickolas Butler

I’ve been lucky enough to visit most of the United States (or unlucky, in a few cases), which is lovely because we live in a country with an incredible variety of landscapes and cultural influences. While I am personally from northern New England – I swear I didn’t learn how to hug someone until I was 25 (kidding…mostly) and I still appreciate dry wit – I now live in the rocky mountain region (which could use a little more water). Yet in all my travels and my multitude of road trips across the country, I have never been to Wisconsin. Nickolas Butler has nearly convinced me to go, first in his bucolic debut Shotgun Lovesongs and again in his newly released Beneath the Bonfire. What Stephen King does for Maine, Nickolas Butler does for Wisconsin.

Last year, when I read Butler’s remarkable debut, I considered it one of the best books of 2014. While I don’t think the novel got the attention it fully deserved (though it was noticed), I’m hoping the release of Beneath the Bonfire will change that. In his new short story collection, he again examines complex friendships that arise in small towns, the bonds between men, and a love for rural landscapes. He writes quite the love song for Wisconsin.

Highlights include “The Chainsaw Soiree” (my favorite), which tells the tale of a beloved annual party, the last of which is truly life altering, “Morels”, where mushroom hunting and the bonds of friendship take an unexpected turn on one particular hunt, and “Beneath the Bonfire”, which is the story of a complicated relationship between two scuba divers set against the backdrop of a bonfire on a frozen lake and sex addiction.

Each story wonderfully blends into the next, despite there being no real link between them. This is the best short story collection I’ve read in a long time. I’d recommend it to lovers of good literary fiction (and maybe give Shotgun Lovesongs a chance too). I’d also say that if your hesitant to read short stories, but you’re interest is still piqued, definitely give this collection a try. It’s worth it, I promise*.

Beneath the Bonfire and Fried Dough

In “Beneath the Bonfire”, the story from which the collection takes its name (clearly), the couple in question meets at an amusement park. So for this pairing, I’m going with state fair style food, it’s so bad, yet so delicious. My favorite: fried dough.

So…short stories**? Yay or nay? I feel like most people either love them or hate them….

*Yes, I received a copy of this book for free. No, it did not influence my opinion.
**If you’re interested in other short story collections I’d recommend, I selected my related posts below just for you.

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  • http://www.lovelybookshelf.com/ Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf

    Short stories are a huge yay for me! And this collection sounds great!

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory O’Connor

      9/10 stories really worked for me, so I’d highly recommend it (especially if you ever read/enjoyed Shotgun Lovesongs).

  • Kate

    Usually not a huge yay for me. Why? ….I don’t really know. There are exceptions – I don’t mind ones that have links, such as Olive Kitteridge or Vactionland.

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory O’Connor

      Olive Kitteredge! One of my favorites. Have you watched any of the show (or perhaps is not available there…?)?

      • Kate

        Yes, LOVED the show – so rare that they get it absolutely right but in this instance, I reckon the show was as enjoyable as the book.

  • http://rivercityreading.com Shannon @ River City Reading

    I’ve been nervous about picking this up because I’ve found I like my short stories to have some magical elements, but I think you sold me!

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory O’Connor

      I do too (almost exclusively, that or give me all the tragedy), but there was something quiet and almost warm about this collection. If you come across it somewhere, definitely pick it up!

  • https://bookishtendencieskatie.wordpress.com/ Katie McD @ Bookish Tendencies

    I’ve been trying to read more short story collections, and I’m from Wisconsin, so I think I’ll have to give this one a go!

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory O’Connor

      It’s meant to be!

  • http://consumedbyink.wordpress.com Naomi

    The more short story collections I read, the more I like them. Which is good, because there really are a lot of great ones around. You’ve definitely convinced me to try this one!

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory O’Connor

      Me too. I go through phases where I love longer fiction, but sometimes how hectic life can be really lends itself to short bursts of fiction. I hope you like it!

  • http://malcolmavenuereview.blogspot.com/ Malcolm Avenue Review

    FRIED DOUGH! Ok, now that I’ve recovered, I’m so glad you posted about this book, both here and at the NSL. I, too, adored Shotgun Lovesongs and have been waiting for this one quite anxiously. I often have a hard time with short stories (my own failing), but this is one I will buy without hesitation. Let’s plan a road trip to Wisconsin!

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory O’Connor

      It is probably good that I do not have easy access to fried dough. It would be dangerous (funnel cake too).

      And we should, just not in the winter!

      • http://malcolmavenuereview.blogspot.com/ Malcolm Avenue Review

        We’ll have to carefully plan around the two days of spring.

  • http://www.sarahsbookshelves.com/ Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves)

    I’m almost done with this one. I loved it – even though short stories don’t do it for me normally. And, I think you’re right..Wisconsin is almost a character in his writing. And, I love his focus on the bonds of old friends and male friendships in particular. Maybe b/c I have 2 brothers and lots of males cousins :) There was only 1 story in the whole thing I didn’t love: the second one with the boy and his grandfather in the rain…

    • http://www.fourthstreetreview.com/ Rory O’Connor

      That may have been my least favorite too, I think it was just *too* short. I really loved it too and I love the idea of place as a character. I’m glad to hear another person singing the praises of this one!

  • http://booksspeakvolumes.com/ Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I’m usually not super interested in the bonds between men, but you always have such great things to say about Nickolas Butler! I would really like to find time to read him someday.

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