You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Red Sox Live

3

4

▲  9th Inning 2 outs

Book Review

‘Snapper’ by Brian Kimberling

“Snapper” is the debut novel from Brian Kimberling.

Benedict Brain

“Snapper” is the debut novel from Brian Kimberling.

Nathan Lochmueller has spent his time in the wilderness, and in Brian Kimberling’s beguiling debut novel, “Snapper,” he invites the reader to join him. When we meet him, Nathan has just landed his first serious post-college job, collecting field data about songbirds in the Indiana woods. He is also madly in love with the elusive Lola, a red-haired beauty who, coincidentally, got him this job. The two pursuits are not exclusive, and both, it turns out, will belong to a period that the narrator looks back on in depth, and fondly, but not without regrets.

Told in vignettes rather than a straightforward narrative, this coming-of-age story darts through time like an elusive thrush through the trees. From the first page, Nathan is already reminiscing. His boss, we are told, “is a Princeton professor now. Back then he was a PhD candidate surveying the effects of habitat fragmentation on neotropical migrant songbirds in south central Indiana.” In a similar vein, the book’s scenes flit back to boyhood adventures, including one interaction with a snapping turtle, in between his adventures with birds and Lola.

Continue reading below

This disjointed structure could be confusing, but Kimberling’s keen attention to detail makes it work. When Nathan is caught in a tornado, for example, he notes how comparing the roar of the wind to that of a freight train is akin to “comparing a wolf to a beagle” and then goes on to recall actually sitting under a train trestle, with Lola and “a brace of beer.” When called upon to euthanize an injured bird, he describes not only his preferred technique but also his reaction to this necessary procedure. “Ten seconds later it was dead,” he notes. “For those ten seconds, however, I did not feel very enlightened or humane.” The result reads like a string of vivid short stories, linked by their protagonist.

Uniting them further is the way that Nathan’s narrative focuses on the way people speak. At times, he echoes the diction of those around him, as in the case of that pedantic boss and his dissertation-ready job description. Other times he reports on it, as with his Uncle Dart, a rural Texan whose words don’t quite mean what they seem to. But the spoken word has its unspoken limits. Nathan’s boss, for example, doesn’t want to hear about Nathan’s affair with Lola, and Lola certainly doesn’t want to be questioned about her private life when she’s not with him. Even as a boy, Nathan recalls, not everything could be said aloud. When he and his best friend meet up with a newcomer who asks what the two boys are doing, his friend says,
“‘We got a boat’ ” because “ ‘We talk about poetry’ would have been asking for trouble,” Nathan remembers.

This attention to speech makes sense in context. Nathan’s job, after all, depends on his hearing. But although he becomes quite good at tracking songbirds, the 20-something character suffers from a selective deafness to humans. When meeting new people — strangers in a cafe or a hunter in the woods — he misreads cues, leading to painful regrets. With Lola, of course, he is often intentionally deaf, not wanting to hear that she only intermittently returns his interest.

Ultimately, it is his hearing that forces him to move on, and not until he returns, years later, can he at last acknowledge what he missed before. It’s a sad awakening, but it puts the rest of the book into perspective. Youth is beautiful because it is fleeting — and also, perhaps, because we have not yet been forced to face the truth behind that alluring bird song.

Clea Simon is the author of 12 crime novels. She can be reached at cleas@earthlink.net.
Loading comments...
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.