Book Review: Nickolas Butler’s “Shotgun Lovesongs”

Published 7/8/15 by:

Shotgun Lovesongs Cover

 

“I came back here and I found my voice, like something that had fallen out of my pocket, like a souvenir long forgotten. And every time I come back here I am surrounded by people who love me, who care for me, who protect me like a tent of warmth. Here, I can hear things, the world throbs differently, silence thrums like a chord strummed eons ago…”

 

This is the genuine sentiment of the five narrators who encompass Nickolas Butler’s debut novel “Shotgun Lovesongs”. Kip, Lee, Henry, Beth and Ronny all grew up together in the rolling farmlands of Little Wing Wisconsin. While some of them stayed after high school, others moved on to bigger cities, bigger lives, bigger dreams. It turns out bigger isn’t always better, and sometimes dreams fulfilled don’t warm your heart the way loyalty and a brisk Wisconsin winter can.

As the novel moves through each narrator’s perspective as to why they’ve arrived back in Little Wing, or for some, why they’re still there, the reader is enthralled with how diverse the lives and interests of these five folks are. Despite the smallness of their community, and the fierce sense of camaraderie they feel in their small group of friends, each of the narrators have had very different adventures. As the group approaches their mid-thirties, it appears that the only commonality they have left is Little Wing, but over time some secrets, business ventures, career flops, injuries and other maladies bring the group together, and tear some apart.

Perhaps the most interesting storyline is that of Lee and Henry’s enduring friendship. Henry stays behind to take over his father’s farm and marry his high school sweetheart Beth, while Lee takes his songs on the road and becomes a huge star in the same vein as a Bruce Springsteen. Lee returns to Little Wing often and is received as a hometown hero, but it’s his brotherhood with Henry that captivates, as Henry earnestly ignores the success of his life-long best friend and just feels lucky to be reunited with his good pal Leland. That brotherhood gets tested multiple times throughout the novel, and is what catapults the story into a page-turner.

Fans of Kent Haruf, Willa Cather, and John Steinbeck will love the sprawling landscape that’s deliciously laid out for them in Butler’s midwestern perspective. This novel delicately intertwines things that every hometown friendship needs: love letters, beer, jukebox tunes, fist-fights, and underdogs. I finished reading “Shotgun Lovesongs” weeks ago, and am still wondering what escapades Henry and Lee are up to now.

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