Godspeed Won West Book Award

I was a little cautious reading Nickolas Butler’s Godspeed. His first novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, had set the bar so high that perhaps a slight sense of disappointment was inevitable in his second, the Hearts of Men. Instead of Butler’s beloved Wisconsin, this new novel takes place in Wyoming, where three men, friends and colleagues have been offered the job of a lifetime for twenty years: the construction of a beautiful Princely House in the mountains.

Not even a kilometer from the highway, and the country was already wild, wild, wild. Under the road meandered a ferocious river white and sapphire, starlings staggered, and above them, from the low slopes of the mountains, sparkling waterfalls flowed like great lengths of silvery-white hair.

Cole, Bart and Teddy have long since moved from their ski Bum days to Jackson and started a small construction business. Teddy is a father of four children, happy in his long marriage, although his wife wants more financial security. Bart plans to leave the building, his knees are shot, and his constitution is striked by medicine use. Of the three, Cole is the most ambitious, his eyes set on what the construction of this surprisingly ambitious home will mean for the company’s reputation, a distraction from his marital annulment. Your client, Gretchen, offered you the kind of money she would give up for life, but the House should be ready for Christmas, in four months. Mouth shut, beautiful and clearly successful Gretchen demands perfection.

The three men are determined to meet their deadline, whatever it takes, thinking about the changing season ahead. They went to work, cheering at first, then more and more exhausted. Bart goes back to his old tricks and uses meth to call the manic energy he needs to do his part. Four months after, the true cost of this colossal task has taken a toll far beyond the satisfaction the rewards can provide, while the reason for Gretchen’s stubborn deadline has been revealed.

But the closer they got to this impossible goal, the more the whole enterprise felt like a cursed enterprise; even this city began to feel like a mirage, an illusion of what was possible in America, and not what it was – a playground for the richest of the rich on the planet.

I watched some of the American cover before reading Butler’s novel, surprised that it was marked as a Thriller by some. No mention of that in the UK blurb, I’m happy to say. Most of Butler’s story is told from the perspective of Teddy, Cole, and Bart, with Gretchen’s story revealing both the urgency and why this site means so much to her. The tension thread appears at some point in the novel, as the three men become increasingly desperate to meet Gretchen’s exact deadline, their exhaustion leading to a terrible accident and worse. As with all of Butler’s writings, there is an awe for nature and landscape expressed in a lovingly evocative language of description. In his novel, a simple message is woven that sings loudly and loudly: greed is destructive, while Love and friendship pave the way to salvation. I enjoyed this much more than people’s hearts.

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