Published 7/8/15 by: Kaitlin
“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.by
Published 1/12/14 by: Kaitlin
My high school didn’t have a Prom King or Queen. We didn’t have a homecoming weekend, or a valedictorian, and we most certainly did not have a cafe that sold lattes on campus. These are all driving forces at Eastwood High where (protagonist and narrator) Ezra Faulkner has just begun his senior year. It never occurred to me that it was odd that my alma mater didn’t succumb to these traditions until I got to college. Then, for whatever inexplicable reason, I decided to covet said traditions. I retroactively wanted to know what all of those things would’ve been like, and who would’ve secured those heavily anticipated social statuses. I honestly couldn’t tell you who would’ve won Prom King in my class, because frankly, I don’t know what the criteria is, or who would’ve even bothered to vote. I can tell you this: Ezra Faulkner sounds like the kind of guy who would’ve won over everyone at my school, even after his accident.
Yes, Robyn Schneider’s “The Beginning of Everything” starts with beloved tennis prodigy Ezra Faulkner getting into a car accident that shatters his knee. The accident takes place immediately after he finds out his potential Prom Queen girlfriend, Charlotte, has been cheating on him. Thus ensues Ezra’s demise back into the group of brainy friends he had in middle school. He reluctantly joins the debate team, falls for a girl who quotes Foucault, and rekindles his best friendship with the eccentric, bow-tie toting Toby. The high school milestones and social class divisions were originally what sucked me into this novel. What kept me reading was Ezra’s realization that his accident could be the catalyst for something great, perhaps something even better than the jock table, and tennis scholarships. Additionally, Ezra Faulkner’s likability (as a narrator) stems from his earnestness and wit. He can banter about beer pong, but his Volvo is nicknamed Voldemort. When he shows up without a costume to a Halloween party, people assume he’s dressed as a teenage vampire, because unbeknownst to him, his leather jacket and dirty hair are exuding that “look”. Essentially he’s a teenage boy trying to figure it out, and I appreciated that as a reader.
While some of the plot twists, and character development leave something to be desired, for the most part “The Beginning of Everything” offers an interesting (and hopeful) perspective for current teenagers. For those of us that are over the age of eighteen, “The Beginning of Everything” presents an opportunity to reminisce on the restrictiveness of high school, while allowing us to revel in first love, and other teenage debauchery.
Book Grade: B