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.

39 thoughts on “Brian Kimberling: Snapper (2013)

  1. You are right. I read the blurb and thought I would really dislike this, and it sounds as though the blurb did the book no favours. It must be frustrating for a writer to see a blurb that is misleading. I’m sure they have no control of that aspect of the book’s marketing.

  2. Narratives with interconnected short stories often make for very good reading.

    Oddly I have been spending a bit of time in Indiana over the past couple of years. My company has opened an office there and I have traveled on business and I have also visited family members who are now living there. As I really like nature I can attest to the fact that the flora and fauna are indeed wonderful.

    • It sounds like a peculiar place in many regards. He has a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. It’s one of those states we Europeans are the least likely of visiting, I’d say, although I’m sure it’s beautiful.

  3. So this is interconnected stories, nature writing but with a streak of comedy, yes? It sounds quite entertaining. I tend to prefer non-fiction when it comes to nature writing, but I’d never say never!

    • That’s pretty much what it is, yes. I know what you mean. It is entertaining but it did bother me occasionally that it was fiction because it felt like memoir. That was weird. I guess it must be autobiographical in parts.

  4. Another one that I would like i think. I love non-traditional novels as long as they work and aren’t too obvious about being non-traditional. Does that make sense?

  5. Sounds intriguing, I like semi connected stories and loved Midnight in the Garden…

    I know what you mean about appropriate reading matter when travelling. I didn’t read at all when I was in Istanbul last week and even on the plane became frustrated with the novel I was reading and switched to reading the guidebook. Now that I am home, I am still partly there and coping by reading Turkish literature until I’m back to myself and able to read anything.

    I think when we ignore that we have arrived somewhere completely new and different to our norm, we risk losing something of the experience, that ability to prepare for it mentally and when there to absorb the experience fully, including reflecting on it. Unless we stay long enough that it then becomes the new norm 🙂

    • I was lurking on your blog yesterday and saw the amazing photos. 🙂
      Istanbul is high on my list of places to visit.
      I know what you mean. I take a while until I’m really back from a trip to a country that’s very different from European countries. My bodies here but my mind lags behind.
      You might like this, if you liked Midnight… It was enjoyable but I’m not sure I’ll still remember much in a week or so.

  6. I wasn’t sure about this one and I feel much better armed to make a decision about it after reading your review and your thoughts on how it is represented in the blurb. Thanks! 🙂

    • You’re welcome. 🙂 The blurb is misleading. It’s definitely not a novel and if you expect one you’re bound to be disappointed. It’s also not the type of book I would have purchased as looking at the cover and the blurb it wouldn’t have told me much. I hope you will like it should you read it.

  7. Well, I’m glad you reviewed this, because it sounds like something I’d really enjoy. It’s too bad about the blurb, and unfortunately, the cover is unappealing.
    Indiana is not known for its natural beauty, but the people are so down-to-earth, friendly and kind. True Midwesterners.

    • It did sounds beautiful though but more than anything it’s the funny charcaters which I liked.
      The covers didn’t appeal to me at all. It’s silly I know but I think some photo might have worked better.
      If they hadn’t offered it I wouldn’t have bought it which is a shame. I enjoyed it.

  8. Nice review, Caroline! It is nice to know that the book is episodic and has a lot of description of flora and fauna. I love these two elements in a book. I love the cover of the book.

      • I liked the first one a lot. The second isn’t bad either, it’s quite gripping and it takes an unexpected turn. I still need to read part III. I haven’t read any other of the Dystopian trilogies, so i don’t know how it compares. Some like Divergent better. … Have you read any of them? I seem to remember you’ve read Matched .

        • Nice to know that. Hope you enjoy the third part of ‘The Hunger Games’ too. I have read ‘Matched’ and liked it very much. I haven’t read the second and third parts yet, but I hope to read them sometime.

          • There are just too many appealing sounding YA trilogies available at the moment. 🙂
            I’ve also got Birthmarked and Divergent. I’ve read somewhere that some are inspired by Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I guess I should read that first.

      • I love colourful birds and so can’t resist loving a picture of them 🙂 A bird comes to our place every summer – it is probably part of its annual migration – and it is bright blue and beautiful. I don’t know what it is called. One day when it suddenly arrives, we roll out the ‘red carpet’ for it and spend time watching it – it watches us and we watch it and both of us continue this till one of us gets bored. It hovers nearby for a few days and then it is gone, probably on its long journey. Then we wait for the next year for it to come back. So, I love colourful birds 🙂

        • What a lovely story. That’s like those flowers which only bloom once a year.
          I also like colorful birds. my parents were or are great animal lovers, we used to have budgies. They are funny and colorful.

  9. I think based on the description I might be one who would pass it by as well, but your review makes it sound quite appealing to me. Sometimes it just that gentle nudge that is needed to pick up a book. All too often I put them back being unsure of what I am getting myself into! And I know all about not being able to read while on vacation (or at least not being able to read certain books). I took several with me on vacation last year but then pretty much only read in the airport or on the plane. So now do you have a burning desire to read about or books set in Morocco?

    • I’m sure you’ll find this at the library. you can just read the first two chapters and you’ll know whether you’ll like it. Yeah that blurb…
      The worst case of mismatched reading on a trip is still trying to read Anna Karenina in Hong Kong.
      I’m not very keen on reading about Morocco at the moment but I’ve got a great suggestions from Jov and will hopefully read that soon.

  10. Poor Kimberling if the blurb is that misleading.
    I really like the quote and Nathan’s voice. Thanks for the review, it sounds nice.

    PS: Is a stripper pit a “terril” or a “crassier”?

    • Yes, it’s a pity. The critics liked it but I guess, like me, received it and read it. I wouldn’z have bought this if I had seen it in a book shop.
      I’m not sure how you would call a stripper pit, I assumed “glaisière”.

  11. First of all, I love the cover…so cute and colorful.

    The writing sounds great but not sure if this is my kind of read. I rarely read books which focus on someone’s life, except for thriller.

    I miss reviewing books, but the book I am currently reading is far from over.

    • I didn’t look what you’re reading right now. I suppose it’s a long book.
      I think you might even like this because the tone is funny – you could imagine the guys from the Mighty Boosh as Nathan and Shane. 😉

  12. Pingback: Brian Kimberling – Snapper | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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