Back in 2008, the death of a Wisconsin girl made headlines here and around the country when it was revealed that her family had foregone medical treatment for diabetes in favor of faith healing. That story, and the questions it raised, provide some of the backdrop for the latest novel by Nickolas Butler. Little Faith is set in a small fictional town in western Wisconsin, not too far from Butler’s real home in Eau Claire.
"I researched prayer healing in America a whole lot, but I began thinking that would be a really dark book if that's what the only narrative thrust was," notes Butler. "So I started thinking that a way to camouflage that or toggle that would be to write a story about a grandpa and his grandson and that kind of amazingly sweet, special relationship between the very old and the very young — and trying to braid those two stories together."
Little Faith is told through the experiences of 65-year-old Lyle Hovde, who is generally content with his life, and his role as a retiree, grandfather, and occasional apple harvester. The book plays out over the seasons of a year, and leads Lyle — and readers — to ask some deep but fundamental questions about the nature of faith and religion.
"Lyle believes in something beyond the plain of normal human existence, but he can't quite go into believing that there's a God in the clouds, and he can't quite believe in the Bible, he can't quite believe in church. So I think, and not to sound 'new agey' or anything like that, but he sees beauty in the natural world. He sees beauty in the orchard that he works in and the seasons and in his grandson, but he really is jaded on organized religion," he says.
Butler joined Lake Effect's Mitch Teich in the studio ahead of their event at Boswell Books next Tuesday to answer some fundamental questions about the new novel, and its many inspirations: