Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Snapper by Brian Kimberling

This is not a novel in the traditional sense, so don't go into it thinking that it is. It is more an interconnected series of short stories all focused on Nathan Lochmueller, similar in form to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. And like that work, it is surprisingly appealing.

Nathan is a graduate student when he falls into a low paying job as a professional bird researcher and ecologist. He is assigned to track birds, their population, and their breeding and nesting habits for one square mile in wooded rural Indiana. In general, he is a bit of a bumbler and he has an ongoing obsession with the enticing and elusive Lola in his immediate post-college years. He drives a incongruous decorated and glitter festooned truck named the Gypsy Moth that Lola painted for him. While Nathan finds beauty in the woods, offering a loving look at the woodlands and animals in his square mile, he is less tolerant of the people in his Indiana college town. But he is shown up as similarly pretentious when he purports to like the unembellished small town life of those outside of academia. He can seem adrift at times but the threads of his life do weave together, creating a different, and ultimately appealing, sort of tapestry.

The novel is not told chronologically, with tales about his childhood friends and his family sprinkled into the story, but it spans several years in Nathan's life, specifically those years where he is trying to find himself and settle into the life he wants to lead. The stories are all connected through Nathan but they don't necessarily have a unifying plot thread running through them all. Each chapter is really its own self contained vignette from Nathan's life. Kimberling has written a graceful and unhurried tale, an environmental ode without the edge of extremism that sometimes accompanies a tale like this. He has captured a strong sense of place and created gently funny and unusual characters. The book is very well written, touching, and in the end, even a bit melancholic.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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