Gail's Reviews > Shotgun Lovesongs

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorite-authors, favorites
Read 2 times. Last read October 2017.

As a reader, I'm drawn to books written in Butler's style: plain-spoken language, characters who aren't overly complicated (yet still complex enough to be believable), and a setting so true it becomes an integral element to the plot. In the hands of a writer like Butler, an author who's clearly put the time and effort into making the story one with great flow, these elements have aligned in such a way to elevate "Shotgun Lovesongs" to the five-stars, favorites shelf—-at least, for me anyway.

On my end, I suppose Butler gets extra bonus points because he is a Midwesterner too (someone who also takes PRIDE in that fact, I might add), and because, a few years into my 30s myself, I felt a kinship with these characters in a way I probably wouldn't have at 23 or even 25. And I'll admit, it probably *also* stoked my love a bit (at the very least, it first piqued my interest) this whole Justin Vernon-Bon Iver angle of the book (that now everyone can't stop talking about). But for ALL these reasons and more, I'm confident "Shotgun" will wind up my favorite read of 2014. A book that, as a writer, I expect to keep thinking about for much of the rest of the year too. (For the sake of record keeping, in 2013 that title for me went to Meg Wolitzer's "The Interestings"; 2012 I didn't exactly have one ... "Fault in Our Stars" perhaps? and 2011 was Chad Harbach's "Art of Fielding").

There's plenty that's been written already about the plot of this book—five 30-somethings in a small town in Wisconsin, all trying to find their way in life while figuring out the challenges that accompany it: loyalties, friendships, relationships, finances, a sense of belonging. The most notable of the group is Lee, who's struck it big as an indie musician (here's where that Justin Vernon comparison comes in, Butler being from the same town as the Bon Iver frontman), but the characters who ground the entire book (and the ones whose chapters I eagerly awaited most) were Henry and Beth, the married couple of the book, good 'ol salt-of-the-earth people tied to their family farm, struggling to stay afloat, but content in so many ways (I saw in them traits of many of the people I grew up with in my small hometown in Indiana).

You know a book is good when you don't want to quit its characters, when they stay with you even off the page, and it seems like, once or twice a year, I experience that with a title. I certainly did with "Shotgun." And while occasionally I found Butler to want to overwrite a scene, the instances were seldom enough (and stopped just short of trying too hard) for it to really bother me. Especially when there were so many other wonderful lines to treasure. Here are a few still on my mind a few weeks after reading:

• "Maybe it's a good thing, from time to time, to spy on other people's lives. For me, anyway, it has the effect of making my own life feel like a well-loved thing."
• [I loved this scene of Henry and Beth in a taxi, as throw-away as it may seem...chiefly because I'm always a little in awe of an author who captures a moment in words something I've experienced before that no one else has ever attempted to put down on the page] "He looked down at me, his chin compressing itself, the type of angle you only see on the face of a person you love—his nose hairs, the crow's feet about his eyes, his hairline, gently receding. I pulled his face down to me, and we kissed.
• "It's a funny thing, being married to someone for so long, being someone's best friend for so long. Because on those few occasions when they surprise you, it feels like the biggest thing in the world, like a crack in the sky, like the moon, suddenly rising over the horizon twenty times bigger than the last time you looked." (such a BEAUTIFUL line and so poignantly true)
• America, I think ,is about poor people playing music and poor people sharing food and poor people dancing, even when everything else in their lives is desperate, and so dismal that it doesn't seem that there should be any room for any music, any extra food, or any extra energy for dancing."

Related: With the book being so new, after finishing, I hopped online to read a few reviews and was lucky enough to catch Butler in a live Q&A. When I asked about the status of the book being turned into a film (Fox Searchlight is working on the script), I brought up actors for characters and suggested that Ryan Gosling would make one hell of an awesome Lee. He agreed, but mentioned that the Hollywood types thought Justin Timberlake. I knew I already liked the guy, but when he wrote, "This made me cringe a little ... in my soul", I laughed out loud. YES. God, PLEASE don't let JT ("The Serious Actor") get his hands on that role. Where do I start the campaign for The Gos? ;) (as for the others, I'm still playing casting director in my mind!)
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 25, 2014 – Finished Reading
March 29, 2014 – Shelved
March 29, 2014 –
page 275
85.94% "Not since Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding have I loved a novel this much. So much so I'm doing that thing where I've slowed down reading it only because I don't want to let go of these characters and this town of Little Wing that Butler writes about so well (SO SO well, to the point I feel like I've been there but that's probably in large part due to my Midwestern upbringing). Already my favorite read of 2014"
January 8, 2015 – Shelved as: favorites
January 8, 2015 – Shelved as: favorite-authors
October, 2017 – Started Reading
October, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Christina (new) - added it

Christina I loved your review! I can't wait to get into this one. I read the first chapter electronically and his plain but smooth prose pulled me in right away.


Gail Christina wrote: "I loved your review! I can't wait to get into this one. I read the first chapter electronically and his plain but smooth prose pulled me in right away."

You'll have a great time with this one then! I was hooked immediately as well but once you get to Beth's first chapter, I think you'll REALLY be smitten!


message 3: by Carole (new) - added it

Carole I'm only half way through the book, and like you, will place it on my Best of '14 List. I want to preserve the pleasure of sharing the characters' lives, of savoring the landscape, and immersing myself in Mr. Butler's descriptive language, so am fighting the urge to read at my usual speed. Please Hollywood, don't ruin it!


Gail Carole wrote: "I'm only half way through the book, and like you, will place it on my Best of '14 List. I want to preserve the pleasure of sharing the characters' lives, of savoring the landscape, and immersing my..."

Oh YES! I hear you on this! It's one of those books where you regret not having the pleasure to read it again for the first time!

As the female yin to Butler's 2014 yang, I must say that Maggie Shipstead and her latest novel "Astonish Me" really DID astonish me in a way that so far, has only been rivaled by this novel! I HIGHLY recommend it for another Best of '14 list! It's a close second on mine!


Jenn Not sure if you'll get this, but my husband and I LOVED this book and also Beneath the Bonfire, even though we're not huge fans of short stories. Can you recommend other authors that write similar style novels, like you mentioned (plain spoken, complex characters, real-feeling stories)? Thanks!


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