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June 7, 2013

Book Notes - Brian Kimberling "Snapper"


In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Brian Kimberling's debut novel Snapper is perhaps the most entertaining book I have read all year. This novel-in-stories set in rural Indiana is filled with quirky, unforgettable characters and an abundance of humor.

The Telegraph wrote of the book:

"His writing is always engaging, sometimes beautiful and often funny, occasionally in quick succession: a lyrical description of Indiana’s 'identical silver street[s]' and 'endless stillborn suburbia' is followed with a tragic yet absurd tale about one of Nathan's boyhood friends."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Brian Kimberling's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Snapper:

Snapper is organized as a series of stories or vignettes, and each one has its own title, often taken from a song. Some notes on those and other musical references below. There's a Led Zeppelin T-shirt in the book that plays a critical role; I had never been a fan until I wrote that scene. I did speak to Robert Plant in a crowded bar once, but I couldn't understand a word he said.

"Lola," The Kinks

Lola is the name of the leading lady in Snapper, and a line from the song is one of the book's epigraphs. One reader told me that he spent the first 30 pages thinking she was a transvestite. On reflection, this might have made a better book.

"Meet Me in the Morning," Bob Dylan

The protagonist, Nathan, has a falling out with a friend who can play "just about every song Bob Dylan ever wrote." They get chased by some cops for a minor misdemeanor and the friend gets away – "he even outran the hound dogs," according to the text, which is lifted from the song.

Of course the next line of the song is "Honey, you know I've earned your love," but Nathan later spurns his friend.

"I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," ZZ Top

Near the middle of the book Nathan visits a desolate truck stop and muses on "all the lonely retrograde denizens and misfits of the Great American Highway." This section of the book is actually called "Nationwide, " and there is not only an overt reference to ZZ Top but a quick quip about hell raisers and beer drinkers, too. It's safe to say I couldn't have written Snapper without some help from the Right Reverend Billy Gibbons and company.

"Bang Bang," by Cher, covered by Nancy Sinatra and later by Paul Weller

There's a section called Bang Bang. I called it that because I was listening to the Weller cover incessantly at the time. Actually in the book the weapon in question fails to go off, and it isn't a banging sort of weapon anyway. But I stuck with the title because what doesn't happen is one of the most important things in the book. Nathan meets a wise and cynical woman who was essentially made just for him – I know, because I made her – and then he misreads her, as he misreads so many things. I had a reader tell me she was rather cross that I was so relentlessly hard on Nathan; somewhere I should have given him some salvation. "Bang Bang" was his chance and he blew it. I'm still mad at him.

"Apeman," The Kinks

There is a Tarzan/Jane joke in the book lifted directly from "Apeman." "I think a Tarzan like yourself should have a little Jane," says the woman in "Bang Bang." Of course Nathan isn't remotely Tarzanlike. "I'm more of a St. Francis," he says. I couldn't have written Snapper without some assistance from the Davies brothers, either. I'm astonished in retrospect that the Ohio, which appears often in the book, is never described as a "dirty old river," a la "Waterloo Sunset."

"Back in the USSR," The Beatles

At one point Nathan admires the Soviet ornithologist L.S. Stepanyan – calls him one of his personal heroes. I am not sure what possessed me. I suppose I detected a dearth of Soviet ornithologists in contemporary literary fiction. I had to get him in. The book's other epigraph comes from socialist Eugene V. Debs. The more that Nathan perceives how people depend on one another, the more disgruntled he becomes with American legal, social, and symbolic arrangements. He was born too late to be a communist, but he could have been a good one.

Various Country Songs

At one point Nathan ponders the suitability of country song titles as a form of flash fiction; a reiteration of Hemingway's six-word story test.

"Mama Tried," Merle Haggard
"My Son Calls Another Man Daddy," Hank Williams
"I Fought the Law and the Law Won," by Sonny Curtis, covered by The Clash (not really country, and over the word limit, but The Clash had to get in there somehow).
"Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys," written by Ed & Patsy Bruce, performed by Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings 

And the country song/short story that got away – that I was unaware of until the book had already been published: "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly," performed by Loretta Lynne and Conway Twitty.

"Aim High," Paul Weller

This is a blue-eyed soul ballad I got stuck in for several weeks while writing a late chapter, and the chapter is called Aim High as a result. In the book, though, it becomes a rather bitter comment on Lola's rise from dubious origins to bourgeois respectability. Nathan feels he's a casualty of the whole process. (Lola's own opinion of this is probably best expressed somewhere by Morrissey). Obviously Paul Weller was instrumental in writing Snapper, too. When I got the book deal I treated myself to a gig of his in London. There were several thousand happy dads in attendance and a smattering of very patient women. He played Aim High, and he hit the high note live. I was very impressed.

In an early scene from the book, Nathan and a friend listen to "The Clash or The Jam or some other band nobody in a hundred mile radius but us listened to. In Southern Indiana, The U.K. invariably means the University of Kentucky." This is only a slight exaggeration. Pre-internet it was nigh impossible to obtain Paul Weller's music in southern Indiana, which had and still has, I think, some kind of record saturation for private ownership of The Eagles' Greatest Hits. That said, my hometown of Evansville, which features prominently in the book, is extremely competitive in homegrown heavy metal, and though I don't want to listen to them I feel the members of Hostile Apology deserve some sort of good band name award.

"Back on the Chain Gang," The Pretenders

Captured my mood when I had finished the book, and every day since.

Brian Kimberling and Snapper links:

excerpt from the book (at NPR Books)

Boston Globe review
Elle review
Kirkus Reviews review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
The National review
New York Journal of Books review
New York Times review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review
Telegraph review
Washington Post review
Washington Times review

CBS News interview with the author
CNN interview with the author
Corduroy Books interview with the author
Flavorwire essay by the author (on his favorite short story)
Writer's Digest interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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