Brian Kimberling – Snapper
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
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.
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.
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