I came across a review of the audiobook of Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler somewhere and I thought “Hey, that sounds like a great book for the commute!” So reserved it at the local library and gave it a listen.
But, first, blurb? Blurb (well, publisher’s synopsis anyway):
Welcome to Little Wing.
It’s a place like hundreds of others, nothing special, really. But for four friends—all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town—it is home. And now they are men, coming into their own, or struggling to do so.
One of them never left, still working the family farm that has been tilled for generations. But others felt the need to move on, with varying degrees of success. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit, and one of them even hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.
Now all four are brought together for a wedding. Little Wing seems even smaller than before. While lifelong bonds are still strong, there are stresses—between the friends, between husbands and wives. There will be heartbreak, but there will also be hope, healing, even heroism as these memorable people learn the true meaning of adult friendship and love.
I have to say, this book really walks the fine line between overly-sentimental and refreshing honesty. And sometimes I couldn’t tell from moment to moment which was which. Sometimes it seemed to be touching on real issues and capturing life in the Upper Midwest without artifice or the ever-popular “detached sense of irony.” At others it felt Butler was trying too hard and forcing everything into a sort of poetic sentimentality.
Listening to it helped because each character had their own voice and therefore stood out a little more. I think that is why I ended up enjoying it and listening all the way to the end. There was a cinematic quality to the audio version which kept pulling me forward.
In other audiobooks the reader/voice actor will use other voices/styles to help separate the characters and break up the dialog, etc. But in this case there are actually four separate individuals voicing the characters and so they really come across as individuals rather than as differently voiced characters (if that makes any sense). This strengthened the sense of differing perspectives and memories regarding the same events.
I am not sure if in reading it this would come across as strongly and as a result the overly sentimental aspect might overwhelm the novel’s strengths.
I guess what I am saying is YMMV …
As a debut novel, however, there are definitely promising aspects to the novel and it will be interesting to see if Butler can explore similar territory and issues with more subtlety in the future.
And I am guessing your experience of the Midwest will also play a role in how you approach the story. If you’re from the Midwest you might appreciate the sense of place and the uniqueness of that part of the country. On the other hand, you might not find the author captures your understanding or appreciation of the region.
As someone who has spent most of his life in the area (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio), but who has moved around rather than stayed in one place, I found it a mixed bag. I think Butler does capture some of what it is like to be connected to a small town in “fly over country.” But as some other reviewers have pointed out, at times it feels like he relies a tad too much on archetypes and stereotypes to make his point.
So. All in all, an interesting experiment that largely worked in the audio version but may not in traditional book form.