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Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel
by Nickolas Butler

Published: 2014-03-11
Hardcover : 320 pages
4 members reading this now
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Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 1 members
NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"Impressively original." —The New York Times

"Sparkles in every way. A love letter to the open lonely American heartland…A must-read." —People

"The kind of book that restores your faith in humanity." —Toronto Star

Welcome to Little Wing.

It’s a place like ...
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Introduction

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"Impressively original." —The New York Times

"Sparkles in every way. A love letter to the open lonely American heartland…A must-read." —People

"The kind of book that restores your faith in humanity." —Toronto Star

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—among 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.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014: When the four men at the core of Shotgun Lovesongs came of age together in Little Wing, Wisconsin, the highest point of the tiny farm town was the abandoned mill. Now in their thirties, Ronnyâ??s trying to start a life after rodeo and booze, Kip has come back to pour stock-market millions into reviving the mill, Hankâ??s followed his father into farming, and Leeâ??s indie-rock career--built on his legendary DIY recording in a Little Wing chicken coop--has shot him into another social stratosphere. Nickolas Butlerâ??s debut novel was inspired in part by the life of his high school friend Justin Vernon, who took the 2012 Grammy for Best New Artist as Bon Iver, and despite its occasional flirtation with stereotypes, his characters and their friendships have authentic souls. Through fights, reconciliations, and celebrations, Butlerâ??s polyphonic story swells to a full-throated anthem about the expansive possibility born of belonging to a deep-rooted community, a kind of America we want to believe might welcome us all home. --Mari Malcolm

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

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?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"Impressively original." —The New York Times

"Sparkles in every way. A love letter to the open lonely American heartland…A must-read." —People

"The kind of book that restores your faith in humanity." —Toronto Star

Welcome to Little Wing.

It’s a place like hundreds of others, but for four boyhood friends—all born and raised in this small Wisconsin town—it is home. One of them never left, still working the family farm, but the others felt the need to move on. One trades commodities, another took to the rodeo circuit. One of them hit it big as a rock star. And then there’s Beth, a woman who has meant something special in each of their lives.

When all of them are brought together for a wedding, Little Wing seems even smaller than before. Lifelong bonds remain strong, but there are stresses—among 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 friendship and love.

Nickolas Butler's 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.

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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SHOTGUN LOVESONGS, Ch. 1

WE INVITED HIM TO ALL of our weddings; he was famous. We addressed the invitations to his record company's skyscraper in New York City so that the gaudy, gilded envelopes could be forwarded to him on tourin Beirut, Helsinki, Tokyo. Places beyond our ken or our limited means. He sent back presents in battered cardboard boxes festooned with foreign stampsbirthday gifts of fine scarves or perfume for our wives, small delicate toys or trinkets upon the births of our children: rattles from Johannesburg, wooden nesting dolls from Moscow, little silk booties from Taipei. He would call us sometimes, the connection scratchy and echoing, a chorus of young women giggling in the background, his voice never sounding as happy as we expected it to.

Months would pass before we saw his face again, and then, he would arrive home, bearded and haggard, his eyes tired but happily relieved. We could tell that Lee was glad to see us, to be back in our company. We always gave him time to recover before our lives resumed together, we knew he needed time to dry out and regain his balance. We let him sleep and sleep. Our wives brought him casseroles and lasagnas, bowls of salad and freshly baked pies.

He liked to ride a tractor around his sprawling property. We assumed he liked feeling the hot daylight, the sun and fresh air on his pale face. The slow speed of that old John Deere, so reliable and patient. The earth rolling backward beneath him. There were no crops on his land of course, but he rode the tractor through the fallow fields of prairie grasses and wildflowers, a cigarette between his lips, or a joint. He was always smiling on that tractor, his hair all flyaway and light blond and in the sunlight it was like the fluff of a seeding dandelion.

He had taken another name for the stage but we never called him by that name. We called him Leland, or just plain Lee, because that was his name. He lived in an old schoolhouse away from things, away from our town, Little Wing, and maybe five miles out into the countryside. The name on his mailbox read: L SUTTON. He had built a recording studio in the small, ancient gymnasium, padding the walls with foam and thick carpeting. There were platinum records up on the walls. Photographs of him with famous actresses and actors, politicians, chefs, writers. His gravel driveway was long and potted with holes, but even this was not enough to deter some of the young women who sought him out. They came from around the world. They were always beautiful.

Lee's success had not surprised us. He had simply never given up on his music. While the rest of us were in college or the army or stuck on our family farms, he had holed up in a derelict chicken coop and played his battered guitar in the all-around silence of deepest winter. He sang in an eerie falsetto, and sometimes around the campfire it would make you weep in the unreliable shadows thrown by those orange-yellow flames and white-black smoke. He was the best among us.

He wrote songs about our place on earth: the everywhere fields of corn, the third-growth forests, the humpbacked hills and grooved-out draws. The knife-sharp cold, the too-short days, the snow, the snow, the snow. His songs were our anthemsthey were our bullhorns and microphones and jukebox poems. We adored him; our wives adored him. We knew all the words to the songs and sometimes we were in the songs.

***

Kip was going to be married in October inside a barn he'd renovated for the occasion. The barn stood on a farm of horses, the land there delineated by barbed-wire fences. The barn was adjacent to a small country cemetery where it was entirely possible to count every lichen-encrusted tombstone and know how many departed were lying in repose under that thick sod. A census, so to speak. Everyone was invited to the wedding. Lee had even cut short the leg of an Australian tour in order to attend, though to all of us, Kip and Lee seemed the least close among our friends. Kip, as far as I knew, didnt even own any of Lee's albums, and whenever we saw Kip driving around town it was inevitably with a Bluetooth lodged in his ear, his mouth working as if he were still out on the floor of the Mercantile Exchange.

Kip had just returned to Wisconsin after about nine years of trading commodities in Chicago. It was as if the world had just gotten small again. For years, decades, our whole lives, really we'd listened to the farm reports in our trucks on the AM radio. Sometimes you'd even hear Kip's voice during those broadcasts as he was interviewed from his office down in Chicago, that familiar self-assured baritone narrating fluctuations in numbers that dictated whether or not we could afford orthodontia for our children, winter vacations, or new boots, telling us things we didnt exactly understand and yet already knew. Our own futures were sown into those reports of milk and corn prices, wheat and soy. Hog-bellies and cattle. Far from our farms and mills, Kip had made good, manipulating the fruits of our labor. We respected him just the same. He was fiercely intelligent, for one thing, his eyes burned in their sockets as he listened intently to us complain about seed salesmen, pesticides, fertilizer pricing, our machines, the fickle weather. He kept a farmer's almanac in his back pocket, understood our obsession with rain. Had he not gone away, he might have been a prodigious farmer himself. The almanac, he once told me, was almost entirely obsolete, but he liked to carry it around. "Nostalgia," he explained.

After he returned, Kip bought the boarded-up feed mill downtown. The tallest structure in town, its six-story grain silos had always loomed over us, casting long shadows like a sundial for our days. Very early in our childhoods it had been a bustling place where corn was taken to be held for passing trains, where farmers came to buy their fuel in bulk, their seed, other supplies, but by the late eighties it had fallen into disrepair, the owner having tried to sell in a time when no one was buying. It was only a few months before the high-schoolers began throwing stones through the windows, decorating the grain silos with graffiti. Most of our lives it was just a dark citadel beside a set of railroad tracks that had grown rusty and overgrown with milkweed, ragweed, fireweed. The floors had been thick with pigeon shit and bat guano, and there was a lake of standing water in the old stone basement. In the silos, rats and mice ran rampant, eating the leftover grainsometimes we broke inside to shoot them with .22s, the small-caliber bullets occasionally ricocheting against the towering walls of the silos. We used flashlights to find their beady little eyes and once, Ronny stole one of his mother's signal flares from the trunk of her car, dropping it down into the silo, where it glowed hot pink against the sulfurous darkness, as we shot away.

Within ten months Kip had restored most of the mill. He paid local craftsmen to do the work, overseeing every detail; he beat everyone to the site each morning and was not above wielding a hammer or going to his knees, as needed, to smooth out the grout, or what have you. We guessed at the kind of money he must have thrown at the building: hundreds of thousands for sure; maybe millions.

At the post office or the IGA, he talked excitedly about his plans. "All that space," he'd say. "Think about all that space. We could do anything with that space. Offices. Light industry. Restaurants, pubs, cafs. I want a coffee shop in there, I know that much." We tried our best to dream along with him. As young children, we had briefly known the mill as a place where our mothers bought us overalls, thick socks, and galoshes. It had been a place that smelled of dog food and corn dust and new leather and the halitosis and the cheap cologne of old men. But those memories were further away.

"You think people will want to have dinner inside the old mill?" we asked him.

"Think outside the box, man, he crooned. Thats the kind of thinking thats killed this town. Think big."

Near the new electronic cash register was the original till. Kip had saved that, too. He liked to lean against the old machine, his elbows on its polished surface while one of his employees rang up customers at the newer register. He had mounted four flat-screen televisions near the registers where it was easy to monitor the distant stock markets, Doppler radar, and real-time politics, talking to his customers out the sides of his mouth, eyes still trained up on the news. Sometimes, he never even looked at their faces. But he had resurrected the mill. Old men came there to park their rusted trucks in the gravel lot and drink wan coffee as they leaned against their still warm vehicles, engines ticking down, and they talked and spat brown juices into the gravel rock and dust. They liked the new action that had accumulated around the mill. The delivery trucks, sales representatives, construction crews. They liked talking to us, to young farmersto me and the Giroux twins, who were often there, poking fun at Kip as he stared at all those brand-new plasma television screens, doing his best to ignore us.

Lee had actually written a song about the old mill before its revival. That was the mill we remembered, the one, I guess, that was real to us.

***

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Praise for Shotgun Lovesongs

Winner of the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for Fiction

Winner of the Great Lakes, Great Reads Award

Winner of the Prix Page du Libraires/America

Longlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize

A Finalist for the Prix du Roman Fnac

A Bookpage Best Book of the Year

Praise for Shotgun Lovesongs

"Shotgun Lovesongs is about a hometown in Wisconsin and the close band of friends who will always feel its magnetic pull. … The most lyrical parts of this big-hearted book are about how all the characters, including the star, are almost physically drawn to the town and one another. … Impressively original." —The New York Times

"Sparkles in every way. A love letter to the open lonely American heartland…A must-read." —People

"We all have them, right? Those songs that indelibly mark the milestones in our lives? Songs that stir up our deepest feelings and remind us of who we are. … Only the best, most emotionally resonant novels work in the same way. Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs is one of those novels." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Totally smitten. That was me, within four pages of the beginning of Shotgun Lovesongs. … This is one of those books you step into, but never want to leave." —Reedsburg Times-Press

"The kind of book that restores your faith in humanity." —Toronto Star

"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." —Wilkes Barre Times-Leader

"Nickolas Butler ripped my heart out with rare honesty and good old-fashioned unapologetic love. A book that makes you want to call old friends. A writer who makes you feel more human than you thought possible." —Matthew Quick, New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook

Book Club Recommendations

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by Bverno (see profile) 08/20/15

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by ljclarinet (see profile) 12/26/17

 
  "Shotgun Lovesongs "by sraelling (see profile) 05/23/17

There are many questions that could be discussed after reading this book: What is more important - friends or family? Are you a failure if you leave your hometown only to return? Is it possi... (read more)

 
by Bverno (see profile) 08/20/15

This book just didn't lend itself to any great discussions. We wished the writer would have developed the characters and their story lines better.

 
  "Shotgun Lovesongs"by bclarkgreene (see profile) 08/13/15

Just a good story about a group of friends from a little town in Wisconsin who grew up together & now struggle with growing apart & being grown up. Lyrical descriptions of the Wisconsin countryside & very... (read more)

 
  "Shotgun Lovesongs"by [email protected] (see profile) 08/03/15

A fun quick beach read.

 
  "Shotgun Lovesongs"by psms47 (see profile) 03/30/15

Interesting read about life in a small town and the things that keep people there, or make them return.

 
by Littlepage (see profile) 02/18/15

 
  "Male Friendship"by FTessa (see profile) 06/17/14

This is a novel of friendship, and of men growing to adulthood. Butler writes prose that is poetic and atmospheric. Each of the five main characters has a chance to narrate, so the reader gets some insight... (read more)

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