Perhaps it is my obsession with him, but I do not believe there was ever a more perfect quote about friendship than that said by Joseph Campbell: “Love is friendship set to music.” It seems author Nickolas Butler knows this type of friendship well. After all, his debut work, “Shotgun Lovesongs,” is a dreamy novel that leaves readers with a lasting impression about friendship and its purpose — to teach, inspire, and, most of all, fill our hearts with love.
We begin in the slow-rolling, rural town of Little Wing, Wis., a place so vividly and realistically captured that readers envision the very community there, defined by their hard work, struggles, warm hearts, and simplicity. As readers are given a sweeping view of the little town, we soon grow intimate with a group of four friends who, even after years spent apart, are finally reunited.
As young men, Henry (Hank), Ronny, Kip, and Lee were left with two choices in life: leave the familiarity of their seemingly ordinary, but beloved home of Little Wing for the unknown, or stay but have that gnawing sense of wonder, never knowing what could have existed beyond their county line.
Ronny, Kip, and Lee left to pursue life elsewhere, making Little Wing a distant memory in their side view mirrors as they drove away. Hank, however, remained. After marrying local sweetheart, Beth, Hank stayed to pursue his family’s farming business. Kip became a business trader; Lee, a successful musician; and Ronny, a rodeo master. Of course, for some of the friends, time would prove unkind. For others, days would melt into weeks, months, and years without much distinction.
Now in their 30s, after years apart from each other, the group is finally reunited. While the plot focuses much of its attention on the foursome, Beth becomes another character of importance, serving as a connective piece among the friends. As a result, without giving too much away, secrets and rivalries eventually come to light, creating a dramatic stir.
Music plays a pivotal role in the work — not only for the characters, but also for Butler. It becomes an aspect that ties the group together, reminding them of better times and better times to come. With endless song references (title and content), loosely inspired characters (Lee as Wisconsin native Justin Vernon of Bon Iver), and Butler’s writing style, the book reads like music, playing in our heads as the plot builds to its final crescendo.
No matter the time lapse or ups and downs, through this amiable and unforgettable cast of characters, Butler reveals that true friendship withstands all, beginning right where we left it — amongst friends with a bottle in hand and the radio playing in the background.
‘Shotgun Lovesongs’ by Nickolas Butler Rating: W W W W W