Welcome to Little Wing.
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—between 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.
Seldom has the American heartland been so richly and accurately portrayed. Though the town may have changed, the one thing that hasn’t is the beauty of the Wisconsin farmland, the lure of which, in Nickolas Butler’s hands, emerges as a vibrant character in the story. Shotgun Lovesongs is that rare work of fiction that evokes a specific time and place yet movingly describes the universal human condition. It is, in short, a truly remarkable audiobook—a novel that once listened to will never be forgotten.
©2014 Nickolas Butler (P)2013 Macmillan Audio
"Fliakos and Shepherd ably handle the sometimes plaintive voices of the male characters, while Hoffman carries most of the emotional weight with her redolent vocal talents.... There's no question that all the narrators connect with the characters' emotional journeys." (AudioFile)
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
I think our mid-thirties may be the time of our lives (other than our teens) when we are most likely to take ourselves too seriously. Worried about how we have defined and sought success, wondering if we made mistakes and if it’s too late to take them back and start over. That seems to be where the five friends of Shotgun Lovesongs are in their lives. Probably because I am two decades older than they are and have already been through the twenty year college reunion that proved that we all grew older if not wiser, that I was able to find many gentle smiles of recognition as these friends work through the beginnings of their mid-life angst. I did like all of them because they seemed nicely and not so nicely real. There was plenty of humor along with the worries, and Butler was able to infuse small town sensibilities into the narrative as if Little Wing was another character. Sometimes the prose got a bit overdone - like too much frosting on a cake - but I was willing to forgive.
This love song was fine up to the point of The Conflict, when a secret is accidently let out, putting two friends at odds with each other in a way that may be impossible to repair. How Butler chose to resolve The Conflict lost the authenticity of the story. The final scenes, essentially in the final hour of the book, he went a bit off the tracks and I turned off my IPod kind of shaking my head. Perhaps guys really would behave that way and as a woman I just don’t get it. But I’m doubtful. Anyway, a star fell off the rating as the final credits rolled.
3/5s of the narration was excellent – Henry, Leland and Kip being very real and natural. Beth and Ronny tried too hard, like catching an actor in a movie working at staying in character. The harder they try, the more you are aware of the acting. Not awful, but broke the spell enough to drop from 5 to 4 stars.
Shotgun Lovesongs takes a real human look not only at four guy-friends that grow up together in a small mid-western town, but what *home* means. That pull and push away, safe but suffocating, "place where everybody knows your name," and how it fits inside of us. The friends each strike out on a different path: leaving to find their voice, build a career better than they could have had if they'd stayed, drawn to a bigger life, staying and carrying on a legacy. Throughout their journeys, the four friends, and Beth, the girl that had a connection to them all, nurture each other and repel each other, and draw each other back together...home again.
The friends gather to attend a wedding in their home town. Each looks back nostalgically, narrating sections of the book from their point of view up to the wedding, when the events become current tense. Butler works the town into the traits of each of his characters, like an entity that molds and shapes who they become, then brings the story full circle proving that home is a place in the heart.
Butler's writing is at times poetic. There is an almost peaceful beauty to the writing, an honest and respectful voice redolent of hard-worked land and salt of the earth people. Though there is also a Big Chill / high school yearbook feel to the book, with plenty of capers, laughs, and tragedies that accompany life, the story doesn't rely on a catastrophic event to re-unite the characters. It is a slow and steady gurgling stream that gently flows by and through the seasons. [The buzz associated with the release of this book is the connection between author Butler and the Indie-folk band founded by Justin Vernon, Bon Iver; Butler went to high school with Justin Vernon. A fact I saw in every press release.]
The inherent problem with creating several voices from one head is -- that they all come from one head. The characters take on similarities, whether that is because they are all creations of Butler -- or all creations from Little Wing, Wisconsin -- is debatable. Either way, the audio narration could have benefitted from differentiating the voices. With similar thoughts and characteristics, even with a full cast, it was sometimes difficult to tell one character from the other, thus the 3 *'s.
I enjoyed this listen. It wasn't a grab-you-by-the-throat listen, I wasn't hanging on to hear what happened next, and I won't take away new wisdom, but I didn't want to put it down . It was a warm cozy blanket, curling up with your back against a tree on a blue-skied day and watching a peaceful stream -- recalling your own safe places, fond memories, and good friends. A poetic, peaceful stroll.
"Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home..." John H. Payne
My husband and I listened to this together on a holiday road trip at the recommendation of a friend. It was the perfect mix of friendship and love story and small town for me with mostly male characters to keep him interested.
We liked the characters. They were well developed and complex, believable. We loved the narration!
There was a lot of profanity and one steamy scene we had to shut down so our 7 year old wouldn't hear it worse repeat. But other than that we loved it.
There was no story. The characters were well developed but just sort of drifted through the narrative. Was the author trying to make the point that life is as aimless as this story ?
The lack of a plot to drive the narrative.
There were (5) narrators. The best was Henry.
This would be a good choice for someone who longs for the sense of community in a small town.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
The setup is a pretty familiar one: a tale of five friends who come from the same American small town, go in different directions in life, and then come together again as 30-something adults, finding that they still have some growing up to do.
The writing isn't really anything ground-breaking, but it's not bad either, and I thought that there was a basic honesty to Nickolas Butler's sense of people and places. Two of the five main characters resonated with me. First, there’s Lee, the brooding alt-rock superstar who keeps returning to the town in which he had recorded his first hit album during a depressive phase and -- probably relatedly -- been in love (ah, hipster nostalgia). Then, there’s Ronnie, the former rodeo stud, now living with the after-effects of a brain hemorrhage connected to the alcoholism of his younger days, looked after by neighbors. Both of their restless, slightly-unhinged narrative voices are well done, and are brought to life by the audiobook readers.
The novel's central dramas, though, weren't very dramatic to me. Henry and Beth are both solid, decent midwesterners, but a bit dull as characters (however capable Maggie Hoffman is at reading Beth’s parts), and I couldn't get excited about Beth's one act of “infidelity”, which never seemed to have much emotional conviction on her side. As for Kip, the high-powered broker, he felt tacked-on to the story, never really graduating from a trope to a convincing character. As another user review noted, cutting a protagonist might have forced Butler to add more layers to the others.
Still, just as a cup of microwave soup is sometimes comforting, a well-worn story format is sometimes just fine for my listening needs during a Sunday trip to the grocery story. There are a few moments of familiar poignancy in this tale of people realizing that their youth is over and they must deal with their baggage and make choices about the rest of their lives. What a serious time our thirties are! Some readers may find the (literally) painful male bonding in the last chapter silly, but I liked that Butler finally upped the level of chaos and didn’t go for the easy happy ending.
Shotgun Lovesongs would probably work well as the kind of movie my parents like to stream, if given some charismatic actors, good midwestern panorama shots, and a stirring soundtrack. As a novel, it was a pleasant if not hugely memorable time-passer.
My favorite contemporary fiction selection so far for 2014. This novel focuses on the comings and goings of lives that were once tightly connected in a small Wisconsin town. This is not a sentimental memoir.. it is solid and reeks of truth. Although the novel spans across a couple of decades, it focuses on the present day effects that friendships from the past have on our lives. Narrators are consistant and likable. Nickolas Butler has written a novel of which almost any reader can relate.
Shotgun Lovesongs captured the essence of trying to find your place in or escaping from a barely surviving small town. What I wasn't prepared for was the absolutely beautiful writing. Melodic, honest, and heartfelt, this book is the story of childhood dreams and friendships that grow together and apart in thousands of little Midwestern towns.
I purchased on the strength of New Yorker review and was excited at the prospect of a good story. At about 1/3 of the way in, I thought, this is a good book and I was excited to keep listening. Sadly, the story quickly ran out of substance. All the characters sound the same note, repeating the same thoughts and actions. No one is very likable and that is fine but beyond this fact, they are generally boring and immature to the extreme
Add to this the fact that nothing happens yet the character(s) acts like his actions have the gravitas of State Department decisions. Too, I don't mind that nothing much happens if the prose in new and interesting but sadly no, the prose is tired and unremarkable. In fairness Butler can turn a good metaphor; is an observant man. This would have been a good short story, but stretched into a novel it is just unremarkable and repetitive.
Resist the urge...
Addicted to Audible!
I found this book to be entertaining and enjoyable. I loved the different readers and the way they captured the voice of each character. I disagree with reviews that said each character was too similar and all male dominated which didn't provide balance. FIrst of all, it was about mostly male characters who grew up together which gives them a similar base and a common voice despite their different lives and experiences. Second, there didnt have to be balance with the one female character - the story was primarily about male friendship throughout 30+ yrs. The end did get a bit contrived and it was kind of abrupt so I took off one star for that. However, I think the book captured the essence of small town life and the ebb and flow of long lasting friendships. I enjoyed this audio and I recommend it for a pleasant easy listen!
This one begins like they tell you how to run a marathon: start slow and get slower. And it's a hard call to rate a book that has so few parts for women. Mostly this book is about men and all their stuff - golf, drinking, farming, music gigs, coupling and uncoupling with various women who are only interesting as sexual partners.
Aren't there any female (or male, for that matter) editors who could have steered this book towards a more balanced perspective?
There were some good prose snippets, with good flow and musicality, but mostly this was a flat narrative. Not much happens, and character development? Not so much, I'm afraid.
It's all about men and how they go about populating their lives with accessories: farm equipment, kids, drinking, people, music.
I am not so much a fan of "plot" for its own sake, and I can just as easily enjoy a book that meanders through decent and layered psychobabble. However, without any interior landscape nor circumstantial forces that drive the characters, "Shotgun Lovesongs" doesn't have much to grab on to. Excellent title, though.
A smaller group of characters and their stories would have served to provide some fresh depth, and to give spark and nuance to the monochromatic scenes, and a few piercing insights here and there wouldn't have hurt, either.
We are well into the 2000's, and fiction still is all about who is hooking up with whom. Isn't there anything else to think about? To write about?
This was/is a strictly "read while you're doing something else" kind of book.
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