TROPES IN ONE VOICE: Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Shotgun
Shotgun Lovesong
s by Nickolas Butler

Thomas Dunne Books, 2014
320 pages, $29.99

*This review contains a spoiler.*

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler is a light story set in small-town America where a group of four high school pals —now grown men in their mid-thirties— come to terms with their identities and friendships.

We meet Henry, a good-natured farmer who can do no wrong; Leland, the wealthy indie-rock star in search of real love; Ronny, the ex-rodeo star who’s had one too many drinks; and Kip, the business man with a pipe dream. The characters in this brotherhood are all clichéd —they fit a prescribed mold and their stories follow a predictable arc. Oh, and we can’t forget Beth, Henry’s content, loving wife and high school sweetheart. She shared a night of passion with one of the other men (I know. It sounds like a Harlequin romance plot.) when she was a single college student. (Wait. What? She was single? So, the central issue of the novel revolves around a one-night stand that wasn’t even an act of infidelity? Ugh.) I’m not against the use of character tropes as long as the writer uses them in a playful or inventive way. Unfortunately, Butler is neither playful nor inventive, so the book fell short for me.

On top of that, the author failed to give each character a distinct voice to make them believable and engaging. These characters did not come alive on the page. The best example of this problem is Ronny’s point-of-view. The rodeo star has brain damage that impinges on his thought process and communication skills, yet he sounds as eloquent as the soulful singer-songwriter. Butler surely wanted to showcase his unique writing style in his first novel, but by writing in the same manner for each character in the third person, his characterisation falls flat.

Butler writes well. He uses poetic phrases and vivid imagery, especially when depicting the landscape and the mood of small-town Wisconsin. Still, the novel lacks momentum. We only get a vague sense that there is something amiss in the early chapters, since Butler introduces the back story —Beth’s not-so-dramatic secret— too late. That’s probably because this central issue doesn’t have much substance to it. I mean, seriously, the woman had a fling when she was young and single! She’s over it, so why are these men tortured by it? I needed a deeper, more significant conflict that created tension I actually cared about.

***I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.***

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