In between getting to read books that are coming out next year and trying to keep up with the incredible books that suddenly just appear on the shelves with no prior warning, sometimes I can miss a few hidden gems.
If I’m lucky, some of them will find their way back to me.
Occasionally, it’s just a passing conversation, but when someone goes to the effort of placing a copy on your desk – and another person tells you how good said book is – it feels like the great librarian in the sky is telling you to read it.
This is what happened with Shotgun Lovesongs.
First published in 2013, it shows us the lives of four men who grew up together in a small town in Wisconsin. We are first introduced to Hank – sometimes Henry – who introduces the reader to Lee, his childhood best friend who is now rock superstar Corvus.
Over the course of three weddings – Kip’s, Lee’s and Ronny’s – we learn how the four lives interact with each other over the various years.
There are obvious parallels for me to draw at this point between Shotgun Lovesongs and A Little Life.
They both concern themselves with the relationships between four male friends over a long period of their lives, but the trauma that we live through in A Little Life is a million miles away from the lives we observe in Shotgun Lovesongs.
Aside from four male leads, and the overall theme of love between male friends, the two are quite different.
A Little Life pulls you into the characters lives but the setting and even the time period of the story is unimportant, neglected even. That works for that book, though, because you are there with the characters. You are the fifth friend in the friendship group.
With Shotgun Lovesongs you are very aware of both the time and the place. It’s a neat trick for a writer to pull off when they can make you feel the temperature of a location in just a few sentences.
Nickolas Butler performs this trick with ease and it’s this sense of atmosphere that pulls you into the world of this small town America. The characters themselves are less well-drawn than those in Yanagihara’s opus, but the novel still works well.
Like A Little Life the main narrative is dominated by one particular relationship, however the conflict between the Lee and Henry is never fully resolved to this reader’s satisfaction.
Comparisons to A Little Life are difficult not to make – despite Shotgun Lovesongs being published first – and any book would suffer for it, however this stands up admirably.
I just sort of wish I’d read it first – I think I would have enjoyed it even more than I did.