Friday, May 29, 2015

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Shotgun Lovesongs
by Nickolas Butler
Thomas Dunne Books, 2014
320 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Audio Version
Narrated by Scott Shepherd, Ari Fliakos, Maggie Hoffman, Scott Sowers, Gary Wilmes
Macmillan Audio, 2014
9 hours and 58 minutes
source: purchased

Goodreads summary:
Hank, Leland, Kip and Ronny were all born and raised in the same Wisconsin town — Little Wing — and are now coming into their own (or not) as husbands and fathers. One of them never left, still farming the family's land that's been tilled for generations. Others did leave, went farther afield to make good, with varying degrees of success; as a rock star, commodities trader, rodeo stud. And seamlessly woven into their patchwork is Beth, whose presence among them—both then and now—fuels the kind of passion one comes to expect of love songs and rivalries.

Now all four are home...

There is conflict here between longtime buddies, between husbands and wives — told with writing that is, frankly, gut-wrenching, and even heartbreaking. But there is also hope, healing, and at times, even heroism. It is strong, American stuff, not at all afraid of showing that we can be good, too — not just fallible and compromising. Shotgun Lovesongs is a remarkable and uncompromising saga that explores the age-old question of whether or not you can ever truly come home again — and the kind of steely faith and love returning requires.

My thoughts:
There's no doubt about it, Nickolas Butler can write.
And his writing will make you feel all the feels.

The characters in Shotgun Lovesongs remark that Lee's music evolves over time. So, too, does the reader's understanding of the small group of lifelong friends in Little Wing, Wisconsin - their history, actions, motivations, and life choices. Butler skillfully accomplishes this with crystal clear prose and a series of five alternating first-person narratives.

Not only is this novel evocative of time and place, it's full of insight into friendship, trust, loyalty, love, marriage... indeed, into all of life itself.

My Favorite Quotes:
I know this is excessive, but there are just so many  quotes I loved.

On small-town life:
Here, life unfurls with the seasons. Here, time unspools itself slowly, moments divided out like some truly decadent dessert that we savor - weddings, births, graduations, grand openings, funerals. Mostly, things stay the same.
On summer:
And then summer comes, the green coming in such profusions that you think maybe winter never even happened at all, never will come again.
On winter:
And then snow. Snow to cover the world, cover us. Our world left to sleep and rest and heal underneath those white winter blankets. The forests that in October threw hallucinogenic confetti at the world now withdrawn, bereft, composed, and suddenly much thinner, looking like old people who know their time has just about come.
On wedding bands:
I stood at the front of the room, beside Ronny, holding the wedding bands that had come to him through his grandmother... His grandfather's old ring...almost like the string a forgetful person ties around his finger as a reminder, and hers, this ring I rubbed between my thumb and index finger within the confines of my pocket, felt the softness of the gold, imagined all the places the ring had gone, all the fingers and objects it had touched. I felt the little diamond - this was the wedding ring of poor people, of middle-class America, it was a promise of things to come, not some gaudy galleria ring, some designer monstrosity like the one I bought for Chloe.
On the sunrise:
Lee used to hear music in sunsets - jazz. I don't know about that. And the sunrise? I don't think sunrise has a musical sound. To me, it's like a beautiful woman yawning as she first wakes up, or maybe, I don't know, a baby. A baby opening her eyes. Maybe both.
On marriage:
What he could have said is, I know you better than you know yourself.
And this, I think, is what marriage is all about.
On forgiveness:
Sometimes that is what forgiveness is anyway, a deep sigh.
On America:
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. 
A note on the audio production:
Many of my favorite audiobooks are multi-narrator productions and this novel is perfectly suited to that format. All five narrators deliver strong, believable performances which lend a distinctive voice to each character. I highly recommend the audio version - it's my favorite so far this year.  But don't be surprised if you end up wanting a print edition, too.

My rating:

Bottom line:
Literary fiction doesn't get much better than this.


  1. Glad u enjoyed this. I had the print version.

    1. I meant to mention that my husband's son had been chosen to write the screenplay (not sure what the latest is as he has several projects going right now) -

    2. Diane - Wow!! That's great. I'll be looking forward to it!

  2. Great review JoAnn. I enjoyed all of the quotes. This sounds like a book I would enjoy.

    1. Pat - I do think you would enjoy this one. It's unusual in that it focuses on male friendships.

  3. I like the sound of the premise and I love that the audio uses multiple narrators. I'll definitely have to look for this one. I loved all the quotes you shared - especially the one about the wedding rings.

    1. Katherine - I love the wedding ring quote, too... very insightful, I think.

  4. I want to feel all the feels too!! I have a copy. It's buried somewhere.. I need to pull it out.

    1. Ti - Yes, find that copy... it's a wonderful book!

  5. This one caught my eye the other day, but I wasn't sure about it, so I made a note to check it out later. After your review, I guess it's now later. lol I'll be checking this one out to get those "feels" I desperately look for in a book.

    1. Kathy - I could have included twice as many quotes. If those appeal to you,I'm sure the book will, too!

  6. The quotes and your review make this book sound of interest to me.

    1. Terra - It's really a beautifully written book. I like that it focuses on male friendships... a change of pace for me.

  7. Replies
    1. Vicki - There's definitely a lot to love here!

  8. Just going by the title, this is a book I would never ever pick up. Foolish me, apparently! :)

    1. Audrey - Silly title, I know. It's actually the title of one character's album.

  9. I saw this at our library a few months ago, and read the first page. I wasn't sure if I would like it so I didn't bring it home, but your post makes me think I made a mistake. It just shows me how a blogging friend's perspective can open my horizons. Again. xo

    1. Bellezza - I actually borrowed this from the library in FL last winter, but only read the first chapter. It appealed to me immediately, so I knew I would have to read it once we got home. If the beginning didn't do anything for you, I'm not sure whether the rest of the book will. Still, I hope you'll give it at least a few more pages :)

  10. You have me hooked now. I love this cover and the title and those were what first intrigued me. Now th story also sounds great, so I am going to look this one up in my library.

    1. Athira - A lot of what the author says about small town Wisconsin also rings true for Central NY, where I live.I'm sure that's part of the appeal, too.


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