Nickolas Butler, 2014
St. Martin's Press
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 book—a novel that once read will never be forgotten. (From the publisher.)
• Raised—Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA
• Education—University of Wisconsin; Iowa
• Currently—lives in Wisconsin
Nickolas Butler was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. His writings have appeared in Narrative Magazine, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review Online, The Progressive, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
He has worked as a meatpacker, a Burger King maintenance man, a liquor store clerk, a coffee roaster, an office manager, an author escort, an inn-keeper (twice), and several other odd vocations.
He presently lives on 16 acres of land in rural Wisconsin adjacent to a buffalo farm. He is married with two children.(From .)
The most lyrical parts of this big-hearted book are about how all the characters…are almost physically drawn to the town and one another…Mr. Butler makes his characters sufficiently different to create all sorts of memorable interactions when their paths cross…[in] this impressively original debut.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
The author romanticizes the landscape and the notion of community—as if such ideals were limited to small town, agrarian dreams. More seriously, his characters are too similar—all of them too lyrical and too insightful. Butler’s prose is often beautiful, and the narrative churns along well, but the book just isn’t convincing enough to get the reader to buy all the way in.
Overall, though, this is a warm and absorbing depiction of male friendship.... [T]he sole female narrator, is as nuanced and believable a character as her male counterparts. —Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
The hearty Midwest, which thrums and beats through tiny Little Wing, Wisconsin—an Anytown, USA, if there ever was one—assumes the whole soul of Butler’s fetching debut, if only to end up proving how unassuming it is.... Butler examines just what it means to be from a place—and if sharing that from-some-place is more a reason to stay in touch, or a reason not to. —Annie Bostrom
(Starred review.) A debut novel that delves so deeply into the small-town heartland that readers will accept its flaws as part of its charm. "Write what you know" is the first dictum directed toward aspiring fiction writers, and there's no doubt that Butler knows his fictional Little Wing inside out.... Despite some soap-opera machinations and occasional literary overreach, the novel will strike a responsive chord.
1. Many of the characters in Shotgun Lovesongs regret specific moments in their life, moments that (perhaps) other people may not regret at all. Do you feel regret is a useful emotion? What do you regret? Which characters (and their regrets) do you identify with?
2. Late in the novel, Lee makes a particular observation about what he thinks America is. Do you feel that his perspective is at odds with your own notions of what America is? Or do you agree with him?
3. Many critics and early readers of Shotgun Lovesongs have remarked that it is a novel that explores adult male friendships. And yet, perhaps at the heart of the story is Beth (and she is given her own voice in the novel). How did you feel about Butler’s representation of women? Was it accurate?
4. Fame seems to be an important theme or consideration throughout Shotgun Lovesongs. Do you feel that the novel critiques fame? Celebrates fame? What do you think about the cult of personality in America? Do you care about celebrity? Read tabloids? Why?
5. Some critics have said that Shotgun Lovesongs is overly sentimental, even "precious"? Do you think this novel is sentimental? Is sentimentality something to be altogether avoided in fiction?
6. Beth and Leland share one night of romance. This incident happened when neither character was married or even dating someone. And yet, it is enough to unravel lifelong friendships. What do you think about this? Could you relate to characters and their reactions?
7. There is a kind of dichotomy in this novel between city and country. Has your own life been subject to the push-pull of living rural vs. living urban? What have you had to sacrifice to live where you live? Do you see it as a sacrifice?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)
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