Book reviews: Butler’s new books are slice of America |

Book reviews: Butler’s new books are slice of America

Sue Krall/For the Steamboat Pilot and Today

“Shotgun Lovesongs”

by Nickolas Butler

In the spring of 2013, my MacMillan publishing representative, Jeff, excitedly told me about an upcoming novel. It was being published in March 2014, and the author would be at our fall regional sales meeting. I went to dinner with this author. We talked about the book and its characters. And, while I was fascinated by the story that I was being told, the book sat … and sat. I couldn’t get around to reading it. Finally, in late summer 2014, I read it! And, I needed to talk about it. I was forced to call my rep and admit to him that it had taken me that long to get to this book that he loved. I was embarrassed, but so relieved that I had finally picked it up.

Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler, is one of those books that draws you into a unique setting, introduces you to ordinary, yet rich characters, and before you know it, you care. You care deeply about these people and this little town in Wisconsin, home to lots of families that have children and whose children grow up. Most stay, but some leave, and nearly all stay attached. They are connected to each other, and to this town of Little Eagle, Wisc. Many of us know towns like this, insignificant on a map, barely worthy of notice as strangers drive through. For those who grow up in and around these places, they are huge: in consciousness, in memories, in roots. There is that giant magnet that draws us back, always emotionally, often physically. This is such an American story. We meet and care about five people who remain bonded, even when their worlds widen and stretch. Beth and Hank are the high school sweethearts who stay and work. They work hard, farming the land and raising their own family, providing that home space to which their friends can return. Kip is a successful businessman who leaves to go as far as Chicago, where he makes his fortune and finds his spouse. Ronny, a man fraught with problems related to his stint as a former rodeo star, has returned to essentially hang out. And there is Lee, the musician, who has gained international success, and leaves, and returns, and leaves and returns. These are ordinary people who are extraordinary in the eyes and hearts of readers of Nickolas Butler’s comfortable and elegant prose. I still care about these people, still wonder about them.

“Beneath the Bonfire: Stories”

by Nickolas Butler

I have two pieces of good news. First, I waited long enough to tell everyone about Shotgun Lovesongs that it is now available in paperback. Second, a new book by the author, Beneath the Bonfire: Stories, comes out on May 5, and this one I read as soon as I could get my hands on it! Again, these are American stories from the heart and soul of this country. There are ten of them, and we know these people, and we have heard some of their stories. That is how Nickolas Butler writes. He reminds us of what it is that makes us return to our home landscapes, even if it is just through his words and our memories.

And that ethereal something that does that to us? It’s love.

Sue Krall is owner of Off the Beaten Path. These books are available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore; e-books can be found at

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