Review: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Henry, Lee, Ronny, and Kip have been friends for ages. Even as Henry has stayed home in tiny Little Wing, Wisconsin to take over his parents' farm, Ronny hit the rodeo circuit, Kip moved to Chicago and started raking in money, and Lee hit the big time with his music, they've remained tight. Over the year or two chronicled in Shotgun Lovesongs, their lives hit roller coasters as marriages and breakups occur, arguments flare up, and their friendship is put to the test.
I'm sitting here thinking about what it was, exactly, that I liked about this book. I can't really say that it was about much of anything. It's just a slice of everyday life. But I think what stands out to me most is that this is a book about male friendship. Not "good buddies" or even battle-forged bonds. These guys just like and genuinely care about each other. They always have, more or less, as is true with friendships of any real length. When is the last time you read a book about male friendship? I'm sure they're out there, but I personally haven't come across many, if any. I like it.
The group really is put through the fire in this period of their lives though. They're all starting to kind of settle down now. Henry and his wife Beth, also a member of this tight group of friends, have been settled for a while. But now the others are coming home to settle too. So they're adjusting to having a more prominent position in each others' lives again. It takes some getting used to. Everybody pretty much fights with everybody else but then they settle down. And then the serious disagreement happens.
The ending sounds a bit far-fetched at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I wonder if this is based on an incident in the author's own life. It's so bizarre, it has to be true. And then I tried to picture my husband and his best friend getting up to mischief like that and I absolutely could. Well, up to a point. I just had to laugh.
I pretty much liked the characters. Solid Henry appealed to me most. I related to him. He's maybe not the most exciting guy in the group but he's the rock. Lee is world famous but he mostly hasn't let that change him. He knows that this landscape is what has shaped his music and his soul. He knows that he needs his friends to anchor him. Ronny isn't quite the same after a head injury years ago, but he's learned to appreciate the moment even while yearning for more. Kip is the weak link. He doesn't quite fit in with the others but he knows it. He tries too hard and manages to always do the wrong thing, even with the best of intentions. He has the most growing up to do.
I've kind of left Beth out of everything. I really liked her but I don't feel that she was necessarily any sort of real focus. She was the, well, not the outsider, but not one of the guys either. She gave us a different perspective on the group, both in their younger years and currently. She also added some tension and a whole other set of dynamics to the group.
And then there's small-town, Midwest America. Lee says something late in the book about how this is his America. Not the excesses and selfishness, but the sense of community and even the sense of connection to the land. Little Wing could be Every Town, USA. If you're lucky, you grew up in a place like this. If you're really lucky, you know how lucky you are to have roots there.
I really enjoyed the narrators who read the parts of Henry and Beth. Even Kip did pretty well. I didn't enjoy the narration for Lee and Ronny quite as much. It's still definitely a good choice in audio format but I wish the cast had all been equally strong.
I highly recommend Shotgun Lovesongs. It's one of those books that will sink into your bones and linger with you for a long time to come.
Read or listen to an excerpt.
Find author Nickolas Butler on his website.
Buy Shotgun Lovesongs at
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