Shotgun Lovesongs centres around five school friends meeting up again for a wedding in their hometown after going their different ways. Kip is a successful and impetuous financier returning home and craving recognition from the locals; Lee is a Bon Iver-esque musician, famous for his lonely and lo-fi first album recorded in a barn but now regretting his fame; Ronny is a former rodeo star and recovering alcoholic with a damaged past; while Beth and Henry are a long-married couple running the family farm and struggling to stay afloat. We skip between these characters in evocative first-person chapters as we see long-held secrets come to light and their tangled lives collide.
Like many novels about small provincial places, the town itself is put front and centre, becoming a character in itself. Little Wing is a town that has fallen by the wayside, slowly decaying as people move away and the industries that built the town wither. Butler has a beautiful way of describing environments and the passing of the seasons, giving equal weight to a beautiful sunrise as well as to an old jar of picked eggs behind the local bar. As the characters move back, they don’t just reconnect with each other, but with the town itself as Kip tries to revitalise the mill.
Shotgun Lovesongs makes no attempt to hide its sentimentality, yet through its sheer honesty it avoids being cloying. It’s a love song itself to small-town Americana and the passions and love of ordinary people, and doesn’t mask itself behind irony or post-modernism. The plot is pushed forward by the interactions and conversations of the characters rather than contrived plot points, giving it an organic and close-to-earth feel, while the prose is measured and uncomplicated. It’s a novel that will have you sinking into your armchair and picking up a record you haven’t listened to in ages. For the purposes of this review, instead of listing similar books, I’m going to give you a serving suggestion for albums for you to put on as you visit Little Wing.
For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver
Sea Change – Beck
James Yorkston – When the Haar Rolls In
Pink Moon – Nick Drake
Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith
I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning – Bright Eyes
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle – Bill Callahan
The Hour of Bewilderbeast – Badly Drawn Boy
Sung Tongs – Animal Collective