Skip to content

Brian Kimberling – Snapper

June 12, 2013

42. Snapper by Brian Kimberling (2013)

Length: 224 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Started: 25 May 2013
Finished: 28 May 2013

Where did it come from? From Random House for review.
Why do I have it? Birds! Look at that cover and tell me how I was supposed to resist.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 02 April 2013.

Coming of age in
the Hoosier state has got its
unique challenges.

Summary: Nathan Lochmueller is a field ornithologist, conducting detailed surveys of the lives and deaths of southern Indiana’s songbirds. When he is not in the woods, he drives around in his exuberantly painted truck, Gypsy Moth, and has an occasional relationship with the enigmatic and unreliable Lola. Snapper is a collection of stories about Nathan’s life, love, work, and the crazy yet beautiful state that he calls home.

Review: To clarify something right from the start, and to fix something that the cover copy gets wrong: Snapper is not a novel. It is a collection of short stories, all of which share a protagonist, but which don’t necessarily have a central plotline. That’s not a bad thing, but it was disconcerting, especially since the first few stories jump backwards and forwards in time through Nathan’s life, and I had a bit of a hard time trying to figure out the various pieces connected, before realizing that they don’t always.

So this book is a collection of stories. It is also a love letter to field ornithology, and to southern Indiana. Snapper is very clearly at least partially autobiographical; Kimberling participated in ornithological research during his time as an undergraduate at Indiana University. And personally, as both a field biologist and someone familiar with southern Indiana, I think Kimberling does an excellent job of capturing the glories and the horrors and the absurdities of both.

The Michelin Guide to Indiana by Nathan Lochmueller is real short. Everything’s flat, everyone’s fat, and you can’t buy beer on Sunday. That is all you need to know. But I admit that sometimes you do run across a colossal Santa Claus on the highway. -p. 77

[during a tornado] I found myself pelted by leaves. They were so thick in the air I couldn’t see more than twenty feet and they were beginning to sting my face and hairs. They did not whirl and dance in pretty concentric patterns; they raged. I was annoyed by them but strangely oblivious to my own safety. I was worried about my nests and the awful prospect of re-mapping devastated territory. -p. 13

Once I got comfortable with taking each of the stories on their own merits, I found I really enjoyed Kimberling’s voice. He’s got a dry sense of humor, draws very vivid characters, and does a really good job at evoking his settings. (Or so I think; I really have no idea how this book would read to someone who’d never been to southern Indiana.) I didn’t always connect with every element of every story – Nathan’s continuing obsession with Lola was a key element to several stories, but I didn’t get it, since I didn’t particularly care for Lola myself. But there was enough that I did connect with, that I found interesting or funny, and most importantly, enough that rang true for me that it was a enjoyable read. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I’d recommend this to folks who like modern fiction, particularly short stories and coming of age pieces. Something about the prose style reminded me of Swamplandia!, although they’re not particularly similar in terms of the story (or how much I liked them). But you don’t have to take my word for it, you can read or listen to one of the stories from Snapper at NPR.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, Devourer of Books, She Treads Softly, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I got my job by accident.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 53: “A male indigo bunting will try desperately to get your attention if you stray near its nest – usually, in my experience, by leading you into the thorniest, muddiest, hottest smilax thicket nearby.” – any typically climbing shrub of the smilacaceous genus Smilax, of warm and tropical regions, having slightly lobed leaves, small greenish or yellow flowers, and berry-like fruits: includes the sarsaparilla plant and greenbrier.

© 2013 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog or its RSS feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2013 10:34 am

    I enjoyed this book even though it wasn’t what I thought it would be. If I could get paid to watch birds, I’d do it in an instant. I do it now as a volunteer, but that’s another story, so a book about a field researcher appealed to me. And while I did like the book, I thought the marketing was a little deceptive. With all those birds on the cover I thought there would be more bird stories.

    • June 18, 2013 10:03 am

      Leslie – There are definitely ornithology research projects out there that pay their field techs, but that might not be what you’re looking for. Awesome that you can do it on a volunteer basis, though! And I agree about wanting more birding stuff, although I imagine an entire book of bird stories might not have gotten the type of exposure or publicity that this one is getting.

  2. June 12, 2013 3:45 pm

    I’m glad to know this is short stories before I read the book.

    • June 18, 2013 10:03 am

      Kathy – They’re loosely connected, but yeah, not a really strong narrative flow from one to the next.

  3. June 15, 2013 1:42 pm

    This looks pretty interesting especially based on the passages you included. Not to get too personal but am I reading you right that you are a wildlife biologist? I work as a wildlife biologist in Iowa:) It’s not often I run into others of “our kind” outside of work related circles! Especially those that like books as much as I do! Anyway, Thanks for the review of this; it was not on my radar.

    • June 18, 2013 10:05 am

      Stephanie – Hooray, another biologist! Scientists in general are not super-prevalent in the book-blogging world, but there are a few of us scattered around. :)


  1. Elizabeth J. Church – The Atomic Weight of Love | Fyrefly's Book Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: