by Brian Kimberling
Pantheon Books, 2013
Let’s just start with a couple of biases upfront with this book. My wife is a massive bird nut and maybe, just maybe, I’ve caught a little bit of the warm fuzziness that accompanies this particular love affair. Next, that Snapper finds its foundational sense of place and of being firmly locked in the Hoosier state, I simply couldn’t ignore this particular book while browsing ye old eBook catalog for my local library. I mean, I lived in the crossroad state for the better of a decade and continue to hold a deep affection of the place and many of its people. All of this means it was a natural must read for me.
As far as introductions to a writers work, Kimberling does some damned fine work with Snapper. It is work that is good enough for me not only to write this post (there much less memorable books that haven’t quite merited one of these posts), but good enough for me to encourage this as a must on any bibliography or reading list of literature of the Midwest. I say that because of deep and powerful roots from which Kimberling casts his characters and their story. The title of the novel itself harkens to that quintessential Midwestern monster of the snapping turtle.
Set primarily in southern and central Indiana, Snapper’s characters and storylines are pulled from the earthy and very much peopled places like Evansville, Bloomington, and Indianapolis. The novel itself acts as a series of important glimmers of big events in the narrator Nathan’s life. Nathan is a professional birdwatcher who finds a frame for his recognizable but engaging life story in the wild and people places of Indiana. It is a well-populated space of Hoosiers ranging from college professors to prisoners to the working class of the state. The bits that make up the stories and memorable moments of this novel come from the mosaic of people that make up this unique slice of the American Midwest.
Kimberling does a lot very right in this novel. He manages to build a very accurate representation of his home state, craft that construction well in the experiences of an interesting and engaging narrator in Nathan, and he manages to connect all the dots well in the novel. This basically means he will tell you about coal pit swimming holes and the history of Santa Claus, Indiana all for a purpose. Basically, the back story here is wonderfully crafted and weaved into the plot. I do sometimes wonder if stronger or more thorough investigations of certain threads such as Lola would have worked better. Those attentions might be interesting in some sense, but would likely change the overall picture being weaved here. In short, this is well crafted story that shares some very worthy things with its audience.
All of these glimmers and facts about the lives and places of the south and central Indiana leave you with that haunted spirit that I so often felt during my time their. In so much that Nathan feels haunted enough to speak of this novels stories and places, they too are likely to leave any reader with that sleepy sense of longing that we all feel when life draws us away from the places we love.