Brian Kimberling: Snapper (2013)


Nathan Lochmueller studies birds, earning just enough money to live on. He drives a glitter-festooned truck, the Gypsy Moth, and he is in love with Lola, a woman so free-spirited and mysterious she can break a man’s heart with a sigh or a shrug. Around them swirls a remarkable cast of characters: the proprietor of Fast Eddie’s Burgers & Beer, the genius behind “Thong Thursdays”; Uncle Dart, a Texan who brings his swagger to Indiana with profound and nearly devastating results; a snapping turtle with a taste for thumbs; a German shepherd who howls backup vocals; and the very charismatic state of Indiana itself. And at the center of it all is Nathan, creeping through the forest to observe the birds he loves and coming to terms with the accidental turns his life has taken.

Snapper was one of the books I took to Morocco with me. I ended up not reading that much. It was impossible. I read on the plane and a little bit in the evenings but that was about it and the only book I could properly concentrate on during those moments was Catching Fire. I started Snapper but reading about Indiana in a country like Morocco seemed weird. As soon as I was back I continued reading and finished it in one sitting.

Snapper is one of those books that needs reviews as the blurb is misleading and might attract the wrong people while those who would enjoy it don’t even think about getting it. A quick look at the us amazon site confirmed this.

Snapper reads more like a series of vignettes and episodes than like a novel. Most of the times I had a feeling I was reading a memoir in the vein of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Once past the surprise to find a very unusual novel I enjoyed reading it a great deal as the voice is wonderful. It’s not as hilarious as the jacket cover promises but it’s amusing.

The stories all take place during the narrator’s childhood and early adulthood and end when he meets his future wife and becomes a father.

The book is as much about Indiana as it is about the narrator. The chapters jump back and forth in time, some characters like Lola the woman he’s in love with and Shane his best friend return, others only play a role in one story.

Nathan studies birds, that’s why he spends a lot of time outdoors. But even as a kid he loved to be outdoors and we get a lot of great descriptions of the flora and fauna of the place. What makes it funny is that Kimberling lets Nathan link the wonderful outdoors with criticism of poaching, carrying guns and many other topics. The stories he tells are funny anecdotes, descriptive evocations of a place but there is always a deeper meaning there as well.

I enjoyed Snapper a great deal. I think it is a wonderful book, entertaining, witty and told by a very endearing narrator with an original voice. Just don’t expect a traditional novel.

Here’s an example to illustrate Nathan’s voice

I doubt anyone outside Southern Indiana knows what a stripper pit is. They don’t exist anywhere else. This is sometimes embarrassing for me in conversations, if I say I spent many happy adolescent hours there. People think I’m talking about Thong Thursday’s at Fast Eddie’s. The British Broadcasting Corporation once sent a reporter by boat to Eansville to investigate the wild ways of the inhabitants – the kind of thing they used to do in “deepest Africa”, I think. We are Hoosiers after all.

On a technical level a stripper pit is what remains of a bituminous coal mine, but strip mining is not like other mining. Picture vast granite cliffs with coniferous trees, deep lakes of calm cerulean blue – imagine a majestic Norwegian fjord somehow misplaced among rolling cornfields -that is what a stripper pit looks like. At the bottom of those lakes you’ll find old refrigerators and stolen cars and bags of kittens. It is Southern Indiana.

Thanks a lot to Pantheon and Schocken Books for a review copy.