Shotgun Lovesongs is the story of four childhood friends from a small Wisconsin town. It is a novel about love, friendship, success and growing up in a small, fly over state. This book has so much Midwestern culture that I could smell the farm fields, taste the stale keg beer from the local VFW, hear the distant trains passing on the old iron tracks, and feel the cold bite of winter air. Butler is a storyteller and his novels are always incredibly atmospheric. Shotgun Lovesongs is highly character driven with a slow plotline, but is more about the lives of each character and their pull to their small Wisconsin hometown.
Hank, Leland, Kip, and Ronny came from the same small town, but each navigates their life differently. Some become husbands and fathers, others find success and fame, but their hometown of Little Wing is a constant beacon that brings them back to each other.
I appreciated the Midwest references and culture that made up this book and how thoughtfully Butler created each character. I will say, this one isn't so much about the plot. There were times I was wondering if anything would happen and when it seemed like the plot was picking up, it ended up not going much of anywhere. Shotgun Lovesongs is a character study with a strong sense of place. Little Wing, Wisconsin is almost it's own main character. True to it's name, Shotgun Lovesongs is like a love song or love letter to the Midwest. I appreciated that about this book, but I can see how it won't be for everybody. A lot of the references will go over your head unless you grew up in a small town like Little Wing, or lived in the Midwest. It's always fun to read a book that references towns and landmarks that you are intimately familiar with.
Fun Fact: One of the main characters, Leland, leaves Little Wing for a life of fame as a well known singer. I suspected he was modeled after Justin Vernon, who many of you all know as Bon Iver. Turns out, he is loosely based on him, in the sense that he was the first person to really "make it big" from my hometown of Eau Claire. He is somewhat of a legend in the area, but is just an overall down to earth, everyday guy. I love when a book has me digging to know more about the writer's process.
If I were to compare it to other Butler books I have read, I preferred his last two novels, Little Faith and Godspeed.
"In all my travels, only in the Midwest would someone spend their money in a place they hate simply because they feel bad for the proprietors. Also, I suppose, because they know your name."
“Winter in Wisconsin is the ideal time to avoid someone because our garments grow ever larger, ever thicker, and we go about the frozen world insulated beneath knit caps and mittens, our feet clad in mukluks or boots.”
“This is my home. This is the place that first believed in me. That still believes in me.”
Other Books by Nickolas Butler:
(Click the title links to read my reviews.)