Review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

shotgun-lovesongs“Hank, Leland, Kip and Ronny were all born and raised in the same Wisconsin town — Little Wing — and are now coming into their own (or not) as husbands and fathers. One of them never left, still farming the family’s land that’s been tilled for generations. Others did leave, went farther afield to make good, with varying degrees of success; as a rock star, commodities trader, rodeo stud. And seamlessly woven into their patchwork is Beth, whose presence among them—both then and now—fuels the kind of passion one comes to expect of love songs and rivalries.
Now all four are home, in hopes of finding what could be real purchase in the world. The result is a shared memory only half-recreated, riddled with culture clashes between people who desperately wish to see themselves as the unified tribe they remember, but are confronted with how things have, in fact, changed.
There is conflict here between longtime buddies, between husbands and wives — told with writing that is, frankly, gut-wrenching, and even heartbreaking. But there is also hope, healing, and at times, even heroism. It is strong, American stuff, not at all afraid of showing that we can be good, too — not just fallible and compromising. Shotgun Lovesongs is a remarkable and uncompromising saga that explores the age-old question of whether or not you can ever truly come home again — and the kind of steely faith and love returning requires.” – Goodreads

I must begin by saying that I did not know what to expect from Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler. This is the debut novel of a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (oooh, I wonder if he knows that yummy Mario Alberto Zambrano, author of Loteria!) It’s a mostly quiet tale of four men in Small Town, Wisconsin.

The book follows four lifelong friends, now in their early 30’s, from Little Wing, Wisconsin. Henry is a dairy farmer, just as his father and grandfather were before him; he is married with two children. Kip, who left Little Wing to make it big as a Chicago commodoties trader, has returned with his bride-to-be with a plan to renovate the town’s abandoned old grain mill that had figured prominently in their childhood and adolescent years. Former alcoholic Ronny had found some low-rent fame on the rodeo circuit before a drunken fall and head injury left him a bit slower than he used to be, and with the necessity of relying on friends and neighbors. Leland – ah, Leland. To put it quite simply, Lee made the Big Time:

“Lee’s success had not surprised us. He had simply never given up on his music. While the rest of us were in college or the army or stuck on our family farms, he had holed up in a derelict chicken coop and played his battered guitar in the all-around silence of deepest winter. He sang in an eerie falsetto, and sometimes around the campfire it would make you weep in the unreliable shadows thrown by those orange-yellow flames and the white-black smoke. He was the best among us.”

Shotgun Lovesongs is centered around relationships: relationships between friends, between lovers, between husbands and wives. The characters experience struggles that are altogether believable and they react in very relatable ways. A stream of Hope also winds its way through this story; no matter how dark the hour becomes, no matter how much despair is in our hearts, grace is always shining somewhere in the shadows. Friendship. Love. Forgiveness.

I am baffled as to why everyone on Goodreads seems to dislike this novel. I really, really enjoyed it. Now, it is not a zippy, fast-tracked, edge-of-your seat type of read – prepare yourself for that. This is a lazy, meandering, wander through the lives and loves of these people, their memories of the past, and their experiences in the present. It’s easy to mistakenly pass this kind of a book by. I, for one, am so glad I didn’t miss it. I hope you will feel the same.

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler. Buy it, read it, love it.

4 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries



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