This week I’m changing things up a little bit and recommending to you all one of my new favorite authors, Nickolas Butler. Born in Pennsylvania, but raised in Wisconsin, this former hot-dog vendor, potato harvester, and Christmas tree axe-man, has found international success with his wonderfully engaging yet spare writing style, authentic characters, and strong sense of place he is able to evoke in each work.
Butler first burst onto the literary scene in 2014 with his bestselling debut novel Shotgun Lovesongs. It is the story of four boyhood friends, all born and raised in the small Wisconsin town of Little Wing. One never left and still works the family farm, another left to trade commodities, one found success on the rodeo circuit, and another hit it big as a rock star.
When all of them are called home for a wedding, Little Wing seems even smaller than they remember. Though their bond remains strong, the group faces unexpected new stresses, but also finds hope, healing, and love like never before. Shotgun Lovesongs is a truly remarkable tale that explores the age-old question of whether or not you can ever truly come home again.
After the resounding success of his first book, Butler went on to publish Beneath the Bonfire, a collection of 10 short stories, each featuring flawed yet loveable characters who are all struggling in some way or another and set along the backdrop of America’s backroads and country highways.
In talking about his love for Butler’s characters, award-winning author Peter Geye said, “The ten stories in Beneath the Bonfire are teeming with the sort of people I know best. Losers at love, failures as parents and daughters and sons, folks hardly able to make ends meet but always striving toward the good. His characters have hearts the size of Wisconsin without ever seeming like they’re from anywhere other than the streets we grew up on.”
This past March, Nickolas Butler published his latest novel, The Hearts of Men. Returning to the scenic backdrop of his home state, Butler centers this story on Camp Chippewa, a Boy Scout campground in the north woods of Wisconsin. Told in four parts, this is an epic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, and the bounds of morality—and redemption.
Like his other two works, The Hearts of Men has a brilliant cast of characters, a compelling storyline, and writing so pure and authentic that it keeps you engaged till the very end.
I wholeheartedly recommend any and all of Nickolas Butler’s books. The way he crafts his characters, his storylines, and the nostalgic scenery he sets his stories are what keep me clamoring for me. I honestly can’t wait to read what he publishes next!
Check out Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs, Beneath the Bonfire, The Hearts of Men and other great works of literary fiction like them at the Sioux City Public Library.
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