Novels of friendship abound on bookstore and library shelves, but first time novelist Nickolas Butler is one of the few authors who has tackled the story of childhood male friendships that survive into adulthood. That he successfully set his story in fictional Little Wing, Wisconsin (near Eau Claire) makes the story all the more appealing to me. An abandoned and shuttered large feed mill/grain elevator where the teenage boys and their dates hung out plays both a symbolic and physical role in the lives of the men as they enter their thirties. Almost anyone who has grown up in a rural area can name a ramshackle mill, silo, barn, school or other building they remember from their childhood. Perhaps,
dreams of being the hero that brings it back to life fill your mind, just as they did Kip.
So let's meet Kip first. Gone from Little Wing the longest, Kip spent a decade in Chicago conquering the commodities market. Now he's returned with his fiancee with two goals in mind: throw a wedding that will outshine anything ever witnessed in Little Wing and restore the dilapidated feed mill into an area attraction. It will take Kip a long time to realize what his ego-fed dreams are doing to his marriage and his friendships.
Lee is probably the most famous citizen to come out of that area of Wisconsin, ever!! The early years after high school were spent on the road with one small bit band after another. Then came SHOTGUN LOVESONGS his first successful solo album and Lee became an "instant success."
While his buddies watch from a distance, Lee travels the world, dates movie stars, and makes the cover of every tabloid magazine. The old schoolhouse home and its acreage he keeps in Little Wing is his retreat, his only place of sanity.
Ronny, like Kip and Lee, also left Little Wing before his teen years were played out. His reason - a chance on the rodeo circuit. And for a few years, his name was right at the top, along with the best, but too many broken bones and concussions and too many empty booze bottles sent him back to Little Wing, a damaged man. Best friends, Lee and Henry see that Ronny stays sober and safe, but he lives a mere shadow of what life should be for a thirty-something.
The final member of the quartet is Henry, the only one who has remained in Little Wing. In his mid-twenties he took over the family farm from his father and married his high school sweetheart despite a brief break-up. Two kids later, they are settled into the hard work sacrifice routine required by most farm families. That Beth and Henry realize that they still love each other is a strength that both will need as four seemingly best friends gather once again in Little Wing. Life has changed the four men; gone are the four inseparable buddies, but then maybe not. Why not take a trip to Little Wing and find out?
Bookclubs, consider this for a future read, especially Wisconsin bookclubs. I love that the main characters were men which I think just underscored the major themes of friendship and loyalty.
Life may change us, but we need a sense of home and belonging, no matter who we are. That sense of belonging does NOT mean we all have to move back to our home towns, nor should we consider it (as Kip will learn). Although women, except for Beth, play background roles in this book. each one was a skillful creation who added just the right depth to the novel.
I look forward to Butler's next book. Check out Butler's website to learn more about the book and the author.