In a polarized world, Nickolas Butler’s third novel, Little Faith, offers a touching portrait of people working to heal divisions.
Lyle Hovde and his wife welcome home their adopted daughter, Shiloh, and her 5-year-old son, Isaac, who need help getting back on their feet. Lyle dotes on Isaac, taking him to neighbor Hoot’s house for ice cream or to the apple orchard where Lyle works in retirement. But when Shiloh joins a radical church in nearby La Crosse, Wisconsin, she pushes her parents away. Lyle, with the help of his mates, must decide how to act when his beloved grandson’s health is in danger.
Little Faith is filled with biblical elements, starting with its bucolic, Eden-like setting, where the Hovde family enjoys togetherness after a long estrangement. Lyle is tempted to savor this fairy-tale scene, but like the apples he tends, the moment doesn’t keep well. Salvation is an open-ended question in this story. Is Lyle saved? Or is it Lyle who saves Isaac? Like a good parable, the novel’s message is worth patient interpretation.
Little Faith resides in a tenuous middle ground between extremes: stoic, agnostic Lyle against the charismatic pastor who attracts his impressionable daughter; Hoot’s unhealthy smoking and drinking habits versus teetotaling church-goers; medical treatment versus faith-healing. Natural rhythms bind these opposites, as the novel is organized by the year’s seasons, and their abiding serenity accompanies the many tensions.
The book’s conclusion is as enigmatic as its title. Little Faith might be diminutive, but it’s far from fragile.