Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
Start your summer reading with Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler, a first novel released this spring, it is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I know you’ll love it – and you will want to put it in the hands of everyone you know, and say – Just read it.
You’ll disappear into this novel – spending a magical few hours or a few days in Little Wing, Wisconsin. You’ll meet Hank, and Lee, and Ronny, and Kip. Men now in their 30s, they’ve known each other since they were small children. You’ll meet the women they love, Beth who has known them all forever, and the women who met them in other places later in life. They all tell us their stories. The celebrity, Lee, the musician who is known around the world but finds refuge in Little Wing with the people who have known him all of his life. Hank, the farmer, the one who stayed in Little Wing and has a family life the others envy. Kip who made millions as a broker in Chicago but struggles to believe he is worthwhile as a human being. Ronny the broken bronco rider with dreams and challenges, protected by the love of his friends.
Shotgun Lovesongs is the name of the album that went platinum and shot Lee from small town troubadour to celebrity. Lee - writing those songs during a time of unhappiness – feeling he had a shotgun at this back, that it was now or never. That this has to happen “straightaway”, no delay – and if this album does not succeed he will cease to pursue a career as a musician. All those love songs for a woman who does not know how firmly she has stayed in his heart.
This is a novel about the strength of friendship among men, and the women that pass through their lives, or stay for the duration. It is about caring for the people in your life, really caring. It is a novel about marriage – if you ever wonder if it is worth it you need to just read this book.
What struck me at some point is that these people are so young, they are only in their 30s – as is the author. I hope, as John Casey did with Spartina and Compass Rose, that Nickolas Butler will re-visit these characters 20 years from now and tell us what has happened over that time.
About half way through reading Shotgun Lovesongs I started to think of Peter Geye, author of Safe From the Sea and Lighthouse Road. I found myself thinking about how these two men both write about men – men who mostly keep their emotions buried but have a deep and enduring love for their friends and their wives. Men who dream of achievement, of needing to feel pride in their accomplishments. Men who might have great difficulty dealing with tragedy, or failure in business, or the loss of a woman they thought they’d be with forever.
I should have known that Peter Geye would, in fact, know about this book, he’d already reviewed Shotgun Lovesongs in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. One of many rave reviews this novel is receiving. Peter wrote, “The heart of this novel, though, are Henry and Beth, husband-and-wife farmers who redefine salt-of-the-earth. Their struggles to make ends meet, to recognize the strength of their love, to navigate the perils of their past and their futures, to keep their friendships afloat, are a thing of sheer beauty.”
“In the background — like the steady beat of a kick drum — the town of Little Wing and the farmland that surrounds it come to scintillating life. It’s a place that drove these people apart, and brought them back together. Likely you’ve driven through a town like Little Wing, and maybe you were listening to your favorite album when you did. That feeling you had? You’ll find it in these pages."
Just read it.