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August 12, 2016



By: Brian Kimberling

Nathan Lochmueller has a love/hate relationship with his Indiana home:

He says:  “Vermont also has moose and mountains and other natural glories…But they don’t—can’t—call my name the way Indiana woodland used to; the Ohio and Wabash River have a way with words that our local New England brook can’t match.  Vermont has famous fall foliage, too, but compared to Box County [Indiana] in October, Vermont is a painting Gauguin left out in the rain.

And he also says:  “It was only when I returned that I viewed Indiana through such a jaundiced eye.  While there I tried desperately to gather the whole state around me and make it cohere.  I don’t mean to say that I enjoyed living there, either; rather the state itself was my own lifelong imbroglio.”  (Imbroglio, n. an extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation.)

Kimberling’s autobiographical novel is about coming of age in Indiana. Main character Nathan was born and spent his youth in Evansville.  He is a philosophy major at Indiana University, and after college, he stays in Bloomington (sound familiar?) and eventually, he takes a job as observing song birds in the southern Indiana woodlands for an IU researcher.  He loves the work, the birds, and the solitude and natural beauty of his surroundings.  His feelings about the people in his life, and Hoosiers in general, complicate his idyllic existence as a birdwatcher, however.  This series of vignettes describes incidents in a life that are often funny and at times poignant or even dangerous.  The stories are told in a shifting timeline, and they follow Nathan as he experiences and copes with friendships, romantic love, as well as ethical, political and social issues.  Kimberling presents a cast of memorable, quirky characters, not the least of which is the state of Indiana itself.  It is full of humor, such as the fake book titles made up by Nate and his high school friends, and the confusion about what a stripper pit is. (This is sometimes embarrassing for me in conversation, if I say I spent many happy adolescent hours there.”)

In this Indiana’s 200th year of statehood, many of you may be focusing your reading on books about Indiana’s history or with settings in the Hoosier State.  This quick read is a unique take on growing up in Indiana, and it is not a gentle love-letter to the state.  However, many will relate to Nathan’s journey along the uneven path to finding out who you are.

P.S.  What about the title?  Malcolm Cowley, in his introduction to “Winesburg, Ohio,” noted, ” … American folk tales usually end with a ‘snapper’ — that is, after starting with the plausible, they progress through the barely possible to the flatly incredible, then wait for a laugh. Magazine fiction used to follow — and much of it still does — a pattern leading to a different sort of snapper, one that calls for a gasp of surprise or relief instead of a guffaw.  The title may also refer to an incident in the book involving a snapping turtle!

Review By:  Donna LeFeber