Synopses & Reviews
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain comes a powerful novel about the way the Vietnam War divided families, and a layered portrayal of marriage, brotherhood, and the sum of a life
From one of America’s most important writers, Perfume River is an exquisite novel that examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family.
Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife, Darla, is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti–Vietnam War protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert’s own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother, Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. William Quinlan, Robert and Jimmy’s father and a veteran of World War II, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across all their lives once again, when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father’s bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert meets at a restaurant and at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert but on his entire family.
Perfume River is a lyrical and emotional exploration of one family’s drama that echoes the lives of so many who are affected by the aftermath of war. It is a profound and poignant book written by an author at the height of his powers, a portrait of family, personal choice, and how war resonates through the American experience.
"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 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
"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)
About the Author
Robert Olen Butler is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of sixteen novels, including A Small Hotel, Hell, and the Christopher Marlowe Cobb series. He is also the author of six short-story collections and a book on the creative process, From Where You Dream. He has twice won a National Magazine Award for Fiction and received the 2013 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. He teaches creative writing at Florida State University.