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.

17 thoughts on “Beneath the Bonfire by Nickolas Butler

  1. 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.


      1. 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.


    1. 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!


  2. 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!


    1. 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!


  3. 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!


  4. 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…


    1. 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!


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