Shotgun Lovesongs caught my eye a few months ago while I was perusing my local bookstore. The book flap synopsis sold me:
“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 – among 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.”
Butler tells us this story through the voices of a group of friends. Each chapter is designated by the first initial of that character and the reader experiences the forward momentum of the story from their perspective, while also being given insight to the events of the past. Perhaps my favorite part of this construction is that we often hear about the same event from multiple perspectives, giving the elusive hint of truth.
But truth, and to an extent loyalty and trust, are the through lines of the narrative. Through much of the early part of the book, I was convinced this was merely a character study, without much of a plot. And perhaps that’s why it took me quite a while to get through it (Goodreads tells me I spent 2 weeks with this book which barely clocks in over 300 pages). But the plot is centered so heavily on what builds a friendship, what destroys it, and how it can be repaired that it felt like nothing was really happening, but everything was happening at the same time.
Nikolas Butler’s first novel is a statement. It’s bold, but not overblown. And for that reason alone, I suggest you read it, I may be giving it 3 stars here, but it’s really a 3.5 book that I just couldn’t quite find my way to giving a 4. Even though it had the following quote:
“America, I think, is about poor people playing music and poor people sharing food and poor people dancing, even when everything else in their life is so desperate, and so dismal that it doesn’t seem there should be any room for any music, any extra food, or any extra energy for dancing.
P.S. Don’t read too much about the ‘origins’ of this book if you want to go in clean. I read some things about where the characters may have been based as I was prepping my review and I wish I hadn’t.