Shotgun Lovesongs Review
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Authors often write about characters’ coming of age—of that challenging and frequently awkward transition from childhood into adulthood. But in his debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, author Nickolas Butler moves beyond the same old coming-of-age drama to catch up with a group of small-town kids years after they left the roost.

Shotgun Lovesongs is the story of four old friends who grew up together in the small rural town of Little Wing, Wisconsin. Though Henry has remained in Little Wing—working the family farm and raising a family of his own with his childhood sweetheart, Beth—his friends have come and gone. Kip found stock market success in Chicago and has moved back with his new wife to renovate the rundown mill where they once played as kids. Ronny traveled the rodeo circuit until an accident turned him into the object of the town’s care and pity. And Lee turned his love of music into indie-rock stardom.

As the four men struggle to find happiness and love, they discover that, no matter how much they may grow and change, they can never really leave the town where they grew up—or the friends who grew up beside them.

Inspired by the author’s own youth in rural Wisconsin—and his friendship with indie rocker and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon—Shotgun Lovesongs is a story about evolving friendships and what comes after the coming of age. While the four men—and one woman—have grown and changed throughout the years, they all find themselves clinging to their small town and to each other, holding on to the memories of what once was. They have their dreams, their regrets, their secrets—things that simultaneously hold them together and tear them apart. In a way, then, this novel explores their second coming of age, as they come home again and come to terms with the fact that they can’t simply pick up where they left off.

Chapter by chapter, their stories are pieced together, with the central character’s identity indicated through just a single initial at the beginning of each passage. Though the switching perspectives do offer more insight into the characters and their friendships, though, the transitions break up the story, pulling readers out of the drama as they try to determine whose story comes next (at one point, I was expecting an “L” to stand for Lucy—Ronny’s girlfriend—instead of Lee, and it took me a while to settle into the different character’s perspective).

The novel’s pacing, meanwhile, is about as laid-back and unhurried as a warm summer night in the country. This isn’t the kind of book that you fly through in an afternoon; it’s a book that you breathe in, soaking up the detailed descriptions of this small, rural town and the people who call it home.

Shotgun Lovesongs may not have you on the edge of your seat as you tear through chapter after chapter, but it’s a moving and bittersweet novel about friendship and growing up—about celebrating the past and moving into the future. Whether you grew up in a small town in the country or an apartment in the city, you’re sure to relate to the characters and their stories.

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