Perfume River

Perfume River



He can only see Jimmy and Pops. They're shouting at each other. Likely they're in the kitchen, because Mom walks out, brushing past Robert. He should follow her. But he doesn't. He stays, though for a long while only in body. He tunes out the words, as Jimmy is drawn by his father into the politspeak he said he despises. High-decibel politspeak that goes on and on. Until abruptly the voices cease. For a moment the room rings with silence. Robert takes notice. Jimmy and Pops are standing close, facing each other. And then Jimmy begins to speak, but softly. Robert listens. He misses some of the words, but he gets the gist. It's about a murderous war. It's about those who defy their country. Then Jimmy's voice rises and Robert hears clearly: "Those are the real heroes. And William raises his right hand and slaps his son across the face. Jimmy's face jerks away from Robert's view. The gesture has been flash-powder fast and William's hand has vanished. Robert's mind is lagging way behind. He saw what happened, recognized it. But Jimmy has quickly brought his face back to his father's, and for a moment Robert doubts his senses, wonders if he saw correctly. For all his bluster and working-class manliness, Pops has almost never used his hands on his sons. And it happens again. Robert sees a movement at William's left shoulder and hears a sharp sound and Jimmy's face jerks this way, showing itself to Robert. Pops has struck him with his other hand, and he barks a single word: "Cowards.


"The story builds its force with great care . . . Its power is that we want to keep reading. The entire journey is masterfully rendered, Butler lighting a path back into the cave, completely unafraid."' Benjamin Busch, Washington Post

This novel confronts the long aftermath of the Vietnam War . . . Butler roves gracefully . . . across the perspectives of many characters, showing particular tenderness in his depiction of Robert's wife, Darla, and her attempt to harmonize conflicting parts of her husband's life."' New Yorker (Briefly Noted)

"The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain revisits the Vietnam War in this contemporary novel about a family still wrestling with the conflict . . . Butler shifts POV seamlessly among his believably complicated characters."' Newsday

"No synopsis can convey the deceptive richness of Butler's storytelling. The writing style, precise and beautiful, discloses more than the simple surface action of any one passage . . . Butler moves seamlessly between points of view, sometimes within the same paragraph . . . [A] deftly slip-sliding narrative . . . Butler greatly enlarges our sense of what the Vietnam War cost to a generation . . . [A] quietly bristling book . . . Perfume River tells a human story that sums up in an entire era of American life."' Miami Herald

"The strength of this novel is its shifting point of view. Butler moves easily among his characters to create a composite portrait of a family that has been wrecked by choices made during the Vietnam War."' San Francisco Chronicle

"A moving story of Vietnam's aftershocks . . . Poignant . . . [An] insightful portrait of a family shaped and shaken by war . . . Perfume River focuses on fathers and sons, but it also gives us a moving portrait of long marriages . . . Butler describes in wry, elegant detail . . . all the little battles and victories on the home front."' Tampa Bay Times

"In Perfume River, Butler continues in his sensitive, highly nuanced, roaming style to explore the repercussions the [Vietnam] war has had on its American veterans, their families and their relationships . . . Eloquent . . . Once again, Butler has written a meaningful novel for the Vietnam War generation. And for their children and grandchildren."' St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"As smart and eloquent as anything [Butler has] done before . . . This novel is rich in characterization, elegantly written and smart . . . Perfume River holds the reader tight as the action moves to its conclusion."' Alabama Public Radio

"[A] thought-provoking new novel."' Susan Larson, WWNO, "The Reading Life"

"[An] extraordinary novel . . . Butler's elegant return to literary fiction proves his skill and grace once again."' Daily Breeze (Fall's Must-Read Books)

"This latest from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Butler astutely reveals the Vietnam War's continuing impact on America through two families . . . By the end of this pristinely written novel, we come to see what war does to everyone. A complex story told with poignancy and an economy of means; highly recommended."' Library Journal (starred review)

"Robert Olen Butler . . . has written eloquent works about Vietnam and its effect on families. He returns to these themes in Perfume River, a heartbreaking story of fathers and sons and their expectations and disappointments . . . Perfume River is a powerful work that asks profound questions about betrayal and loyalty. There are marvelous descriptions throughout . . . A provocative novel."' BookPage

"An exceptional novel."' Advance Reading Copy

"The prolific author best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, returns to mine the fraught relationships of military fathers and sons in this searching portrait."' Atlanta Journal Constitution (13 Fall Books That Will Change the Way You See the South)

"Butler's most famous work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, explored the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the perspective of the Vietnamese. With Perfume River, Butler argues that the war continues to exact a psychic toll on American soldiers and destroyed families, as well . . . Butler's prose moves seamlessly between 2015 and flashbacks, narrating personal histories in the present tense."' Chapter 16

"An elegant work of fiction . . . Butler has amazed me with his uncanny ability to bore deeply inside his characters' hearts and minds and illuminate their deepest thoughts and emotions . . . Butler consistently offers up believable and insightful evocations of his characters' innermost feelings. He is also adept at two of the novelist's most difficult tasks: exposition and building a narrative to an unexpected ending . . . Butler handles this seamlessly . . . The ending is a surprise that's only one of the many satisfying elements in this terrific novel."' VVA Veteran

"A deeply meditative reflection on aging and love, as seen through the prism of one family quietly torn asunder by the lingering effects of the Vietnam War. Butler, returning to contemporary literary fiction after three outstanding historical thrillers, shows again that he is a master of tone, mood, and character, whatever genre he chooses to explore. This is thoughtful, introspective fiction of the highest caliber, but it carries a definite edge, thanks to an insistent backbeat that generates suspense with the subtlest of brushstrokes."' Booklist (starred review)

"Butler's assured, elegant novel explores a family fractured by the Vietnam War as its members face the losses of age . . . Eddying fluidly through its half-century span, the book speaks eloquently of the way the past bleeds into the present, history reverberates through individual lives, and mortality challenges our perceptions of ourselves and others."' Publishers Weekly

"The climactic scene . . . is devastating and beautifully written. Many weighty themes . . . the shadow of Vietnam, the push and pull of father-son relationships, the pitfalls of long-term marriages, and the psychic toll of aging . . . Butler pulls it all together into a story that's both complex and meaningful."' Kirkus Reviews

"Butler's Faulknerian shuttling back and forth across the decades has less to do with literary pyrotechnics than with cutting to the chase. Perfume River hits its marks with a high-stakes intensity . . . Butler's particulars on the two brothers' marriages are comprehensively adroit . . . Butler's prose is fluid, and his handling of his many time-shifts as lucid as it is urgent. His descriptive gifts don't extend just to his characters' traits or their Florida and New Orleans settings, but to the history he's addressing . . . 'You share a war in one way,' Robert thinks. 'You pass it on in another.' Perfume River captures both the agony and subtlety of how that happens."' New York Times Book Review

"What I so like about Perfume River is its plainly-put elegance. Enough time has passed since Viet Nam that its grave human lessons and heartbreaks can be' with a measure of genius' almost simply stated. Butler's novel is a model for this heartbreaking simplicity and grace."' Richard Ford

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