Thursday, March 27, 2014

When Did Snapper Become a Novel, and Other Conundrums, in Leading Up to Our Event/WBN Reception, on Wednesday, April 16.

It was probably important for me to read Snapper, as I had this hardcover burning a hole on my reading shelf, and by also, not reading it, I was overplaying the bird identification hand. I actually started outreaching to ornithological orgs, and after reading it, I realized that while Nathan Lochmueller is definitely tied up with birds, only about half the stories are in the field, and about three fourths of the way through the collection, he loses his gig when someone pushes him down a flight of stairs. Long story. The important thing is that a year later, whenever I mention Snapper, some bookseller or publishing type writes back and says, “Snapper, sigh.” It may be a relatively quiet story, but it’s quite endearing.

But what is it anyway? Everyone always described it to me as a collection of connected stories, but when I looked closely, Pantheon, called it nothing at all, not even just “fiction.” Vintage, however, has slapped a “novel” label on Snapper, which is the second time I’ve noticed this in the past year; it was also spotted on Three Strong Women, and boy, did that label confuse the heck out of our in-store lit group.

It’s really misleading. Many of us all agreed it’s a mighty fine collection of stories, however connected, but Three Strong Women is kind of lacking as a novel. Perhaps Barnes and Noble said they wouldn’t buy a reprint collection of stories, but as a novel, they would. Who knows about these things? (Photo credit at left is from Benedict Brain.)

I’m trying to decide whether Snapper does work as a novel or not. Do you know much about the book yet? Nathan has a mess of a job, searching for birds and nests in the forests. He’s trying to stay tight with his old friends, but the relationships are sort of splintering, either because they are growing up or well, going crazy. And he’s got this slow burning love for Lola, whom he knew from high school, but started dating in college. The problem is that she’s almost always got another boyfriend somewhere. It’s not going to end great with her, you just know it, but it might end ok. Haven't we all had a more-than-friend-less-than-spousal-equivalent whom we dallied with for just a little too long, not seeing the signs on the wall that the other party just wasn't going to commit?

So Nathan’s got some adventures. There’s the time he winds up in maximum security prison because the drunk tank is full—he’s in there because his friend was beating a parking meter. There’s that time he took in the old friend of his who was shot by his roommate, only to slowly understand why this other guy shot him, what with the drug dealing he sets up in the house. There’s his Texas aunt and uncle, who move to rural Indiana only to find that conservatives in Texas are no match for the merry band of KKK. And yes, the story returns several times to the field. One of the guys from the KKK, by the way, intimidates Nathan by stalking him and killing songbirds, and almost too late, a bald eagle.

I’ve come to a conclusion. While I don’t think Snapper works as well as a narrative as it does connected stories, I will admit that there is a bit of a narrative arc to the collection, and at least two plotlines, of sorts, are resolved. So Vintage, if you need to get that collection in Barnes and Noble or on a book club recommendation list, or wherever it was that needed this label to make the purchase, you make it work, and we’ll support you. Whatever it takes!

I’ve been thinking about my recent roundup of Indiana writers, which includes Snapper of course. If I were to compare Brian Kimberling’s writing to anyone on that list, it would almost be Jean Shepherd’s. It’s funny and smart and nostalgic about childhood, only there’s also a lot of illicit substances involved. So maybe that’s the Indiana literary voice after all. I guess I have to read Booth Tarkington and find out.

Brian Kimberling is back at Boswell for the paperback release of Snapper on Wednesday, April 16, 7 pm. It’s in conjunction with our World Book Night reception, where folks can pick up the books they’ll be giving away on April 23. Note that this is not a reception only for folks participating in World Book Night, but a great place to cheer the volunteers on, and learn more about participating in WBN 2015. As a result, we’ll have some refreshments for either set of attendees, and hopefully some will overlap. Maybe some of the folks who come for Kimberling will get the idea to volunteer for 2015’s World Book Night.

1 comment:

spypop said...

Hi Boswellians!

I am very excited to be Boswell-bound again, and delighted to find my book the subject of a blog post in advance of the event. I’ll tell you what I know.

I call it a book. I sympathize with editors and publicists and in particular booksellers who need to put books in appropriate hands, and for whom labels are deeply useful. I’m not one of them, though. Snapper has also been called memoirish and autobiographical and other things. It is not helpful to me — is distracting to me — to keep these distinctions in mind while I write. Initially I thought I was writing a collection of linked short stories. The more I wrote, however, the more I discovered that the stories began talking to each other. Beneath the droll narration lies a lot of meditation on class and race and wealth and privilege that I didn’t really set out to write — but that once written began to proliferate independently in the background. Eventually some of that stuff turned into — if not a narrative arc, then a narrative braid — and a timeline emerged despite the fragmentary non-sequential vignette structure, and some downward path to wisdom (or otherwise) surfaced in the narrator’s later reflections. There is enough there (I think) to make you ask: what makes a novel a novel, anyway? Fortunately, there is no definitive answer to that.

That said, call it anything you like. I don’t mind.