On the official last day of her 20-year marriage, Kelly Hays sits in a New Orleans hotel room alone amid bottles of Scotch while her husband, Michael, checks into a different hotel with a sexy, decades-younger woman. But wait—don't take sides yet. Both husband and wife in Robert Olen Butler's deliciously, unapologetically romantic novel, A Small Hotel (Grove/Atlantic), are decent people in agony over their ruined love. Their emotions are complex, though hardly subtle. Michael wistfully recalls years earlier waltzing Kelly around the room and feeling "glad that her head was pressed hard against the side of his because the last thing in the world he wanted was to let this woman he loved see tears in his eyes. It makes no difference that they were happy tears." The empathetic, precise writing flirts with melodrama but never feels hackneyed. In less skillful hands, this story would be a guilty pleasure. Instead, it's just a pleasure.