SNAPPER by Brian Kimberling (Tinder Press)
available for pre-order
There's a bittersweet feeling that comes when you turn the last page of a really good novel. Often it comes from the emotional power of the story, or an attachment that you have felt as an involved reader with one or more of the characters. Less frequently it comes from the knowledge that the voice of the writer has come to the end of their tale. The story is over. The voice has spoken.
And it is Brian Kimberling's voice, as much as the story he tells in SNAPPER, that makes this such a startlingly good debut. At just over 200 pages it is a short book (by today's standard). I read it slowly, savouring the elegantly humorous measure and fluency of its prose.
Nathan Lochmueller, the narrator, and the other characters in the book are vivid, despite there being no high drama or adventure involved in the plot. For much of the first half of the book Nathan has a job collecting bird observations on a reserve in southern Indiana, a landscape and a microclimate described with affectionate and ironic honesty. From this starting point the story unfurls backwards and forwards, involving college friends, inconsequential encounters and, not least, Lola, a free spirit with whom Nathan enjoys an on-off relationship.
Insofar as the book has plot-driven page-turning momentum, the desire to know whether or not Nathan and Lola eventually get together permanently keeps the reader wondering to the end.
I was reading a proof copy. The hardback is published in May and the paperback in August (2013). An eBook will be available in April.
At its conclusion and at its heart it is a coming of middle-age novel that leaves us realising how important it is to stay true to the spirit and energy of our youthful selves. Not all the characters in this book manage it, but it is clear that Kimberling (via his main character Nathan) is made despondent by what time does to some of us.