Snapper by Brian Kimberling

Brian Kimberling

Vintage Books 2014
ISBN: 978-0-345-80336-8

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“. . . can be entertaining . . .”

Brian Kimberling’s jocular coming-of-age debut novel, “Snapper,” evolves around the pitiful life of Nathan Lochmueller, who by chance gets a job helping an injured ornithologist wearing a neck brace.

One would think the novel would trace Nathan’s journey as he learns to track and monitor songbirds, a threatened species in the Indiana forest, but there is nothing like that, in fact, no specific literary plot. Instead, we are served up with numerous time-shifting vignettes around Nathan’s encounters with eccentric and most often disturbing characters.

While finally able to conduct surveys on his own, Nathan observes a man shooting at songbird nests. He didn’t report the crime because he thought the man was a “rifle-bearing Klansmen” so he feared for his life. It’s just Indiana, Nathan thinks, where at the time an effort was underway to revive Klan membership.

Nathan later becomes quite talented and is able to identify various birds with his keen hearing. However his new job is short-lived when he encounters his “drug dealing” former college roommate Darren at the post office. Nathan asks, “Is that more dope?” That prompts Darren to push him down a flight of marble steps, leaving Nathan’s hearing permanently impaired.

The anecdotes feature dark and ironic humor, like when a turtle snaps off the thumb of Nathan’s best friend. In another encounter, Nathan takes a former oncologist on one of his surveys. She suffers chronic epilepsy of the arms caused by Lyme disease and falls. Nathan jokes, “Don’t get my truck muddy,” referring to his beat-up old vehicle “Gypsy Moth,” painted with butterflies, mushrooms and birds by his promiscuous lover, Lola, who pops in and out of his life.

Nathan was cause for amusement in his hometown, where folks, including his uncle and aunt with right-wing and racist leanings didn’t accept counting bird nests as a real job, especially driving around in comically painted truck.

It was difficult to become emotionally attached to Nathan, as his character is never fully developed. Instead, this novel is about the maze of life, and how Nathan maneuvers around multiple and odd circumstances. Depending on one’s frame of mind, this novel can be entertaining or in my case, quite boring. I would have preferred learning more about birds.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla