Nathan Lochmueller is an affable young man who has fallen into a career in bird-watching. Basically living paycheck-to-paycheck, he treks around the Indiana backwater in a glittery truck affectionately known as the Gypsy Moth and pines away for a woman named Lola, who is promiscuously free-spirited (much to his dismay). Told in a series of vignettes about Nathan’s youth in Indiana, Brian Kimberling vividly captures the eccentric characters and abundant wildlife of the rural Midwest. The state is a presence in-and-of-itself, contrary and comforting simultaneously.
I was drawn to Snapper‘s snappy, bird-filled cover long before I knew what it was about. Likely, this was a holdover reaction to my high school English teacher, who moonlighted as a bird-watcher during breaks between classes. The cover doesn’t belie the content because the ornithology is a true highlight of this novel. Among my favorite chapters were the ones with the birds, whether he was observing bald eagles and scaring angry hunters away from them or counting songbird nests in the field while simultaneously avoiding a creepy KKK stalker.
I wasn’t enamored with the tone, which varied from hilarious to melancholy, but overall was only mildly entertaining. Similarly, the structure fluctuated wildly since the stories were only loosely tied together by the main characters, jumping back-and-forth in time and space. It made for a confusing narrative, particularly in the beginning, and some segments were far stronger than others. The ending in particular was a let-down with Nathan moving out of state and rejecting his natural roots, particularly after Kimberling, and thus Nathan, spent the previous pages scripting an ode to Indiana.
As a result of the aimlessness and the conclusion, my feelings toward Nathan fluctuated wildly over the course of the book as I considered him to be an inconsistent person at best and an idiot at worst. Nor did I empathize with his Lola-obsession, mostly because of my dislike of Lola, who came across as a Mary Sue from the hippie/hipster crowd (also known as “the Cool Girl” in Gone Girl parlance). However, from poetic librarian Shane to proud Texan Uncle Dart to a snapping turtle with a taste for thumbs, the supporting cast of humans and critters livened up the text. My favorite though had to be the German shepherd who howled accompaniment to the guitar and played fetch with human bones in the cemetery – what an individual.
I’d recommend this for bird lovers and Hoosiers, or for those who want a beautifully written love letter to nature, but not so much to humanity.