Booked Up

Love Songs of Wisconsin

A debut novel by Wisconsin writer Nicholas Butler is already optioned as a movie.

By - May 8th, 2014 10:18 am
Nicholas Butler

Nicholas Butler

Nicholas Butler’s debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, is a valentine to Wisconsin and the Midwest. But it is also much more. It is a beautifully written exploration of the Boomer generation coming of age and finding its way through the confusions of life. With its compelling portrait of friends at a turning point, the story may remind you of an update of the movie, The Big Chill, but Shotgun Lovesongs has its own originality that elevates it above easy comparisons.

Butler grew up near Eau Claire and went to high school with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. This combination of the mundane and the famous figures into the plot of the moving story. Already optioned as a film, it lovingly delineates the interconnected strands of friends’ lives who grew up in the stagnant, fictional town of Red Wing, Wisconsin.

Small-town life is thoughtfully presented as a backdrop to this diverse group. Raised in the sleepy farm town, two of them grow up to be rich and one very famous. Lee is known as Corvus when he records his popular rock albums, the best called “Shotgun Lovesongs.” His friend Kip becomes rich in Chicago, investing in commodities. They are in sharp contrast to Beth and Henry, who farm in Red Wing and brain-damaged Ronny, whose rodeo career is cut tragically short.

Each of the major characters narrate alternating chapters, as we learn more about their inner lives than we might perceive from their small-town exteriors. This device serves Butler’s book well. The points-of-view shift as we learn secrets and discover layers of personality and character.

People love, wed, grow older, and die as life goes on in Red Wing. By the end of this novel, you will want to spend more time with these characters as they struggle to make their way, together and apart. Butler skillfully juggles the various relationships while illuminating the reasons so many fall in love with Midwestern life and values.

Shotgun Lovesongs

Shotgun Lovesongs

Perhaps you’ve experienced growing up in a small town. Maybe you even dreamed of moving back. After you read this novel, you may think about those things in a new, more complex way. Fame, too, gets the reality check that we so often avoid when reading about the rich and famous. Butler sidesteps the clichés here and instead goes for something deeper in exploring the changes money and notoriety bring.

It is always hard to get that first novel out there, but Butler’s debut is an auspicious start for a very promising novelist. He has published extensively in various journals and attended the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Yet, he still lives in Wisconsin, a tribute to the Midwestern traditions he so fervently celebrates in this novel.

I urge you to buy “Shotgun Lovesongs,” read it, and give it as a gift. It’s good to share the best things about a place you love. That’s what Nicholas Butler has done and you can too.


Upcoming Book Events:

Friday, May 9 (7:00 PM): Local Book Launch with Mary “Peetie” Basson, author of Saving Kandinsky at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee. (414) 332-1181                  

Friday, May 9 (7:00 PM): Reading with Nathan Hoks, Genevieve Kaplan, and Joel Craig at Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 East Locust Street, Milwaukee. (414) 263-5001  Free admission.

Saturday, May 10 (2:00 PM): Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo and The Confabulist at Boswell Book Company.

Saturday, May 10 (7:00 PM): Bill Hillmann, author of The Old Neighborhood at Boswell Book Company.

Saturday, May 10 (7:00): Milwaukee Poets Laureate Reading Series with Jeff Poniewaz and guest David Cope at Woodland Pattern Book Center. $5-$8 admission.

Sunday, May 11 (11:00 AM): Mother’s Day Story Time with Jannis reading Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle and other rain-themed stories for ages 18 months+ at Boswell Book Company.

Monday, May 12 (7:00 PM): Joseph Ellwanger, author of Strength for the Struggle: Insights from the Civil Rights Movement and Urban Ministry at Boswell Book Company.

Monday, May 12 (7:00 PM): Outwords Men’s Book Group discusses The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin at Outwords Books, Gifts & Coffee, 2710 N. Murray Avenue, Milwaukee. Call (414) 963-9089.  Free and all are welcome.

Tuesday, May 13 (7:00 PM): Tony DiTerlizzi, author of The Battle for WondLa at Boswell Book Company.

Tuesday, May 13 (7:00 PM): Lesbian Reading Group discusses The Heat of Angels by Lisa Girolami at Outwords Books, Gifts & Coffee.

Tuesday, May 13 (7:00 PM): Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center Event with Bill Berry, author of Banning DDT: How Citizen Activists in Wisconsin Led the Way. The Riverside Park Urban Ecology Center is located at 1500 E. Park Place in Milwaukee. The entry fee for this event is $5 for members and $10 for non-members. Co-sponsored by Boswell Book Company.

Wednesday, May 14 (6:30 PM): Book Club discusses The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman at The Little Read Book, 7603 W. State St., Wauwatosa. (414) 774-2665

Thursday, May 15 (7:00 PM): Roxane Gay, author of An Untamed State at Boswell Book Company.

Friday, May 16 (7:00 PM): David Downing, author of Jack of Spies at Boswell Book Company.

Send your book club picks and author event information to me at or on Facebook at  And good reading!


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