Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel

Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel

by Nickolas Butler

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"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 friendsall born and raised in this small Wisconsin townit 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 stressesamong 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 booka novel that once read will never be forgotten.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466840799
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/11/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 18,701
File size: 958 KB

About the Author

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 currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife and their two children. Shotgun Lovesongs is his first novel.
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 Writer’s Workshop, he currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife and their two children. Shotgun Lovesongs is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Shotgun Lovesongs

A Novel

By Nickolas Butler

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Nickolas Butler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-4079-9


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.***

Excerpted from Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler. Copyright © 2014 Nickolas Butler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Shotgun Lovesongs: A Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
anita60 More than 1 year ago
Living in the neighboring state to where this book takes place, I thought I would read this. I am glad I did. This is a story about a group of friends who grew up together and remained in the same small town. Some through career choices went to far away places, while others remained on the farm, so to speak. With chapters containing narratives by each character, the story gives a fresh perspective from everyone's point of view. You grow to care for each of them as their character develops and they grow and learn from life's choices and experiences. With the book taking place in Wisconsin, of course there hast to be plenty of talk about copious amounts of alcohol and miserable winters. Overall, this is a story about the true meaning of friendship, community, and what is important in life. I am waiting for your next book Mr. Butler!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters' lives and loves intertwine with their small hometown rural upper midwest setting, which becomes the glue that binds the story together. Although focused on the men and their coming of age through their twenties and thirties, it is really their struggles to find meaning and love with women, particularly Beth, that drive the tale for me. The narrow focus of telling the story from the viewpoint of the main characters gives focus and paints a unique context about growing up in an area that is rich for fiction and too often ignored. As a small town girl myself-- who continues returning and identifying with friends and place after several decades-- I really found it a great easy read. Grand fiction? No. But a simple tale told exceptionally well by a gifted new writer who gives voice to a place he obviously appreciates for all it offers. I stayed up half the night to finish it and hated to let go. Bravo.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just never want to leave this book and these characters.....ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel felt ike your own hometown sickness. The immediate urge to rekindle old, once irreplacable friendships or visit home hits hard as you move through the chapters. Each character is lovely and individual, and feel as familiar as your own circle of loved ones.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lovely book.
michelle524 More than 1 year ago
there are 4 reviews here and only 1 pertains to this book - that's strange. i thought this was a beautifully written book with interesting characters that as a reader i became invested in. i think the story dragged a little towards the end but the way the author really brings to live these characters and small town was just so enjoyable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great insight into humanity and friendship.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this author! Her had such a way with words and descriptions. I fell in love with the town and its people. Lee is one of the best developed characters that I've ever read. This story of friendship, small town life, and personal development his all of the high notes and keeps it real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written .... anyone ever spend time in a locker room needs to read this
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love stories about relationships. This book has so many lifelong friendships that go through so many trials and errors. It is nice to read about men with deep relationships not only women.
Drewano More than 1 year ago
‘Shotgun Lovesongs’ isn’t the kind of book I normally read but I found it interesting with likable characters. The book is told from the standpoint of various friends as they move through the years. The author does a great job of not having each person sound the same and giving each character their own voice. The characters are likable and interesting each with their own flaws and struggles, but the way they come together is nice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a great book. You really get involved with the character's lives. Nickolas Butler is such a great writer and really knows how to tell a story. A rare story where you can't wait to read what's next. Great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The great American novel that transcends location, this book is a testament to male friendship, marriages, and small towns. If you're looking for something beyond the by-the-numbers thriller or mystery, this book is the one to pick up. You won't regret it. --LOC
brf1948 More than 1 year ago
I am never disappointed at the end of a Harlan Coben novel.  "Missing You" touched me in several different ways, and was a very satisfying story, with the good guys, if not triumphant in the end, at least contented.  I would recommend it to anyone having a rough time of it emotionally or on the job - or just down in the dumps.  
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OWL39 More than 1 year ago
This book is somewhat unique in its method of telling the story of a number of close friends in a very small country town. The author was able to tell the story through the viewpoint each of the 'cast' without very much overlap in the story as a whole. This book was very well done and realatively easy to read. I enjoyed it very much.
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Loved this small town book! When this wonderful book ended, I instantly missed the characters. The audio is perfection.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just "ok"
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