“Little Faith” by Nickolas Butler

Genre:           Psychological FictionLittle Faith
Publisher:    HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date:    March 5, 2019

This is a story about religious extremism and how it can destroy a family as well as a town.  But this is not the loud and angry tale one might expect from such a premise.  It’s a quietly and delicately penned.  In many ways, Butler’s “Little Faith” reads like “Plainsong,” written by the acclaimed American author Kent Haruf.   “”Faith” also has similarities to any novel written by Howard Frank Mosher, a much loved American author.  “Plainsong” is located in Denver.  Mosher’s fiction takes place in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.   “Faith” is also located in another small American town, this one in Wisconsin.

The residents are plain-spoken people, needing not much from the world, but a good crop, family, friends, and a place to worship together as a community.   The reader will meet grandparents who are in their mid-sixties—not quite old but content being in their autumn years.  They are helping to raise their five-year-old grandson, whom they adore.   He is the child of their single-mother daughter. The daughter may be the only character who is difficult to grasp.  Butler never really explains why she can be unkind and manipulative towards her parents.  She left home years, ago returning with a little boy.  The grandfather is the story’s narrator.  Some of the novel’s sweetest scenes are between himself and his grandson. “Oh he loved the boy; and that was all there was to it.”  The book is divided into seasons.  The lyrics to the song “Turn, Turn, Turn” are the essence of this novel.  “To everything, There is a season, And a time to every purpose, under heaven.”

Friction in their little family begins when their daughter falls for a new young preacher who has just come into their little town.  He creates a new fire and brimstone congregation.  He may or may not be selling snake oil.  No matter, she is smitten.  As Dusty sang “The only one who could ever reach [teach me] was the son of a preacher man.”   When he tells her that he is convinced that her son has healing powers, she never doubts him for a minute.  This will lead to a crisis that will boil over into their community.  Throughout the book, the reader will follow all the main characters on their own private religious journeys.  However, although the story is filled with theological questions, and undoubtedly the book is exploring one’s religious beliefs or lack of them, its strength lies in the author’s tender descriptions of how his characters chose to live their lives.

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