Snapper by Brian Kimberling

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Snapper by Brian Kimberling

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: An unconventional coming of age story set in Indiana. The humour is very much in the vein of Bill Bryson or Garrison Keillor - it's warm hearted and often very funny as the narrator looks back on his upbringing, his job as a bird watcher and his obsession with a girl he seems destined never to catch.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2013
Publisher: Tinder Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780307908056

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There's little doubt that Brian Kimberling's debut novel, Snapper is a slightly unusual book. The publishers describe it as a coming of age story, and it is after a fashion, but it's more in the vein of an adult looking back on his young adult self than the more conventional young person grows up way of looking at things. The narrator, Nathan, shares many of the traits of his creator. Like Kimberling, he is brought up in Indiana and is involved in research of songbirds in that state; effectively a paid bird watcher. The title of the book though comes not from any type of bird, but from the snapping turtle that lives in the state. It's a broadly affectionate and wry look at the people of Indiana, known as 'Hoosiers'.

There is a hint of Bill Bryson in his early travel books and also a suggestion of Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon Days in some Kimberling's narrative. If you can imagine someone driving you through a place that they grew up but you never knew, and telling stories of what happened in their younger days in those places, you get a reasonable impression of what Kimberling does here. Some may find his tendency to go off at a bit of a tangential ramble at times a little frustrating, but I rather enjoyed this relaxed journey.

The running theme throughout most of the book is his obsession with Lola, a beautiful, but unfaithful redhead although the 'affair' with Indiana is perhaps the one that comes over most evidently. At times he gently sends up the so-called 'white trash' residents particularly when contrasted with the academic community in the university towns. But by and large most people are kind hearted, including prison inmates and the truckers who stop by the diner in Santa Claus, Indiana, to help the owner reply to the letters sent by children to Father Christmas.

The book follows a rough chronological development, but Nathan often goes off on brief asides. Each chapter relates some particular incident in Nathan's life. Despite his job, you certainly don't need an ornithological interest to enjoy this book by any means. It is more about the people with whom he grew up and, to a slightly lesser extent the environment in the form of the nature of the state, with which the narrator has a love/hate relationship throughout. There's plenty of dry wit and humour to enjoy and it's a book with a big heart. In many ways it reads a little like a collection of related short stories in that it is episodic in nature. If you want a deeply plotted story, this probably isn't for you.

In many ways, Nathan's relationship with Indiana is as doomed as his relationship with Lola appears to be. Indiana is depicted as a Mid West State with the soul of the deep south. There are Klansmen and racism as well as dilapidated trucks and drugs. It is an unconventional book, but warm hearted and often very incisive. You get a strong sense of an area as well as people that are striving for an identity. It will be interesting to see what Kimberling comes up with next as there is a strong sense that this contains a fairly strong element of autobiographical content - and if it doesn't then that just shows how evocative of the place his writing is.

Our grateful thanks to the kind people at Tinder Press for sending us this book.

Our further reading choices don't often follow along publisher lines, but the team at Tinder Press, an imprint of Headline Publishing, have developed a knack of finding slightly unconventional but warm hearted books along similar lines, so if you enjoyed this then you are sure to enjoy When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman and, one of my favourite books of 2012, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

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