Before you begin Shotgun Lovesongs, you may wish to make sure you have nestled into your favourite reading spot, whether it be on the front porch, on the back deck or wherever your idyllic reading space is, because once you’ve started it, you will find yourself completely lost to this wonderful piece of storytelling.
Shotgun Lovesongs was another title granted to us by Audiobook Jukebox and MacMillan Audio. It was also another wonderful novel to listen in audio. What caught my attention to request this title in audio, was the promise of five narrators reading it, giving distinct voices to each of the characters telling this story. (And, as a side note, the audiobooks I’ve been picking up lately have been home runs, all have been excellent reading/listening experiences.) While some of the voices didn’t seem to be the right one for their character in my opinion, it was easily overcome the more I became immersed in the story and their telling of it. Shotgun Lovesongs truly is wonderful storytelling.
Little Wing, Wisconsin is the small hometown where these four best friends have laughed, loved and lived up to and including the times when they have left to break out on their own. Only one of the guys, Hank, has remained in Little Wing and married the hometown girl Beth, whom also has a large part in each of the other guys lives as well.
And at the very heart of Shotgun Lovesongs is Little Wing, Wisconsin. While we hear each of the five character’s perspectives on their life and loves, it is Little Wing that is reflected often upon and lovingly so. It can almost be considered a character in the novel as much as Hank, Lee, Kip, Ronny and Beth are. Indeed it is a love song to the hometown as it was at the center of each of their lives. There are many, many moments when the beauty, the longing, the force and pull and gravity of it and the love for Little Wing comes shining through. The splendour of the sunrises, the blueness of the sky and the water, the wide open spaces and the nature, animals and people were all depicted with a loving sweep of Butler’s pen.
We hear first from Hank, the only one to remain in Little Wing and run the dairy farm that has been in his family for generations. He is married to Beth, his long time sweetheart and together they have two children. Hank’s life certainly isn’t glamorous, with the early morning rising, the not so profitable life of farming, the home that could use some sprucing up and the cars that need to make it through for just that little bit longer. But his life is filled with love and he and his wonderful Beth remain devoted to one another. He looks forward to the moments when his best friend Leland (Lee) is home from his rock star lifestyle and they can share those moments together again just as they did before for so many years.
Leland is one of the first to leave – he’s made it big as a rock star and is often gone on tour. When he returns for those brief respites in Little Wing is when he reflects the most on how badly he wishes to return to Little Wing and how envious he is of Hank’s life, his kids, his house full of life and love and Beth. He carries a torch for Beth and reveals that Shotgun Lovesongs, the song and title of his first album was written with her in mind. One night he reveals this to Hank and it is a betrayal that threatens these two very best of friends. In terms of Lee’s audio voice, I felt it was far too old. Lee is all but 30 years old and the voice narrating his part sounded like an old, gravelly sheriff that has been around for a good spell. I was able to overcome my slight irritation at this however as the stories he told and his longing for the life his best friend Hank has really touches your heart.
Kip is the other one of the group that has long left Little Wing and made it big in Chicago as a commodities trader. The opening of the book is about Kip’s wedding and the first time the whole group has come together since they’ve branched out into their adult lives. Kip has always felt like the outsider of the group, the one that just never truly fit in the way that Hank, Leland and even Ronny have throughout their entire time growing up together. Kip as well reveals his deep nostalgia for the life, the beauty and the draw of Little Wing. So much so that he buys the old mill at the centre of town and bankrupts himself to revive it. This chance that he feels to redeem himself and become a brighter star in the Little Wing gang comes at great cost to his standing with his friends and his wife.
Ronny is the rodeo star that is also a recovering alcoholic. One night, after far too much to drink he is in an accident that leaves him slightly damaged. His friends and the folk in Little Wing treat him as though he is mentally unable to live a full life and in turn tend to babysit his every move. Ronny is the one to really detail the gravitational pull Little Wing has on them all and is the one with the kindest heart and hope that they can all remain true and close friends. Ronny’s voice as well was a loud, jarring and rough voice. I get the reason behind casting this type of voice, but it was still a touch irritating to the ears.
And woven into the foundation of their collective friendship is Beth. She provides the outside-looking-in approach to their lives and also gives her perspective on what is has been like to have the love and friendship of each of these men in her life. Beth is that hometown girl that has fueled the writing of Leland’s love songs and sparked rivalries.
Shotgun Lovesongs is a fantastic saga told in frank, wonderful and heart-breaking writing. I think what was among the most powerful was how shared memory is so incomplete and that what one person feels or remembers is nothing like what the others have thought or think their lives are like. This comes through with stunning clarity about Hank and Kip’s perspective of what their lives are like and how others perceive them. I truly enjoyed my time spent in Little Wing with Hank, Leland, Kip, Ronny and Beth and listening to their individual stories. I was quite sad to see my time there and with them come to an end. Again, this is a wonderful piece of storytelling. I highly recommend. Either in audio or hardcopy, Shotgun Lovesongs will make for a grand summer (vacation) read for certain!
You can listen to Nickolas Butler read a section from Leland’s story here on his web site.