“A Small Hotel” by Suanne Laqueur

A Small Hotel

Suanne Laqueur
Cathedral Rock Press (2021)
ISBN 9781737264958
Reviewed by Kristina Turner for Reader Views (10/14/21)

“It’s an intense longing. An emotional state of melancholy and desire for things you’ve lost. Sometimes things you’ve never had in the first place, but your heart believes they were yours.” – A Small Hotel

“A Small Hotel” by Suanne Laqueur is the tale of a family, the Fiskares, or, as the town calls them, the Fishers. A family of kind women, strong men, and open arms. But the war soon comes to America, and the family will be forever changed. This is the tale of a family’s golden boy, a boy who fell in love, lost his dreams, then went to war and lost himself. Will he find his way home? Will he get a second chance at happiness? This is how a man becomes a magic fish and a storyteller.

When I opened the first page to a family tree, I worried this would be a saga full of too many characters, spanning vast swaths of time. But much to my delight, the narrative quickly focused on a young man and his close family. The book begins like a fairy tale, “Long ago… there was a small hotel,” evoking the story-telling motif that will permeate its pages. While the book falls very squarely into the historical fiction and romance genres, I propose that it sprinkles in a touch of magical realism, just enough to temper the bleak realities that invade the latter half of the novel. Throughout we are treated to the small rituals, superstitions, and mythologies of every-day life and how these small moments are ingrained in our psychology, twined with our regrets, guilt, and fears.

Laqueur brings us into the lives of a large and loving Swedish-American family, certainly not without their tragedies, but for the most part happy and wholesome. You cannot help but love the Fiskares. They help their community through the depression, even turning a little bit pirate and bootlegger. They take in orphans as though they are family. They accept those whom society would shun. But all the nearly saccharine narrative-candy of this beautiful family won’t last. I assure you, you will love these people and because of that you are going to need a lot of tissues as you read.

The narrative moves steadily as the St. Lawrence River that flows through the Fiskares’ lives. The potentially sappy family saga becomes a whirlwind of a torrid love affair between two young teens. Things very quickly became unexpectedly steamy! But just as I’m settling down to what is now a steamy romance, the tale shifts again. Greed, tragedy, and war strike America and suck the family into the bloody gears. The reader is thrown into the trenches with our protagonist, dragged vividly through the horrors of the European front. Focusing on the intimate moments in a soldier’s life, Laqueur wrote so realistically of the smells, sounds, and ugliness of the war I had to grab up my tissues again.

Overall, this was a novel of love – familial, platonic, romantic. The love between brothers, soldiers, and lovers. Love in the face of death, torture, and fear. Love in times of hope and hopelessness. This was a novel about the way love builds, tears down, and heals again. It was a novel of wishes and the power we give our superstitions, talismans, and fears, about the power too of small moments, too often gobbled up and forgotten in the vastness of history. This is a novel about the stories we tell and those we keep to ourselves. Enjoy!  

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