Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Review: "Snapper" by Brian Kimberling

I would never have thought a novel focused on a subject as stereotypically monotonous as bird watching could not only provide moments entertainment of the highest order, but also offer keen observations about the unpredictably of life, both good and bad, as well as being somewhat of a love letter to my odd home state. But that is exactly what Brian Kimberling’s debut novel Snapper accomplishes with humble skill and insight. Not so much a novel but a series of linked vignettes involving one recent wayward college graduate as he recounts both his past and his desired future, all while being completely surprised  at where his life has taken him. Don’t let the whole bird-watching, or bird surveying, to be more accurate, fool you into thinking this is the kind of book only retired blue-hairs will read. It is not that at all, feeling more like one Stephen Kings non-horror retrospectives on the history of an ordinary person. It is violent sometimes, funny quite often, and with this odd residue of melancholy and regret that always seem to show up in books like this, making it a quietly moving read as well. There are no big actions scenes, and the one scene of violence, which I will get to) is more humorous than horrifying. And the state of Indiana plays a big role in this novel as well, being both the key to the narrator’s hopes and dreams, but also something that threatens to derail any dreams he is working towards. Through his character of Nathan Lochmueller, who we first meet in the woods of southern Indiana tracking birds, Kimberling comes to embody a certain post-college drought that affects more young people than we want to admit. He spends his days out in the woods, mostly pining for Lola, his on again off again sex buddy who is never within emotional reach. We also meet his mentor, a sad man whose genius with birds separates him from any human connection. We also get a few glimpses into the past, where his friend Shane, as well as their acquaintance Eddie, who grows up to become an owner of a local strip joint, have a nasty encounter with a snapping turtle that almost costs Eddie his thumb, something that reminded me of the leeches in King’s The Body. There is also Nathan’s uncle Dart, whose old world views and undying love for his home state of Texas, causes problems for Nathan’s family in Indiana when they move up there. Nathan grows throughout college, majoring in philosophy, but is sidetracked when he is arrested for destroying a parking meter, somehow leading him to become a interested in birds, which he has quite a talent for. The reader finds out, through Kimberling’s turn of phrase accompanied with his eloquent prose that the story is being told from the future, and from a Nathan who has experienced the loss and pain life can dish out. But ultimately, he is the better for it. An off-kilter book for sure and never something that is destined to sell millions, but this book is still quite a gem.

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