I was a good fifty pages into this excellent memoir when I realised that the narrator's name was different to that of the author. I was confused. I re-read the blurb (mine was a proof edition) and even checked the Amazon listing but was still somewhat baffled.
And then it dawned on me. This is a novel.
I don't think I have ever been so thrown while reading a book. No plot twist, no whodunnit revelation, no literary sleight of hand has messed with my head as much as this. I was convinced this was a memoir. Still am, to be honest.
Nathan is a young man in lust, and probably more than a bit in love, with the mercurial Lola. Their on-off affair is punctuated by moments of tranquil bliss but there are also prolonged periods of separation, usually when she has gone off with another bloke. Nathan sticks around though, just in case.
He takes a job as a birdwatcher, monitoring nests and activity for some sort of conservation organisation in southern Indiana and, despite starting out as a complete novice, slowly becomes something of an expert. He grows to love his job, ticks, thorns, bird shit and all.
What follows is effectively a series of short stories - flashbacks to childhood episodes, birdwatching adventures, the agonies and ecstasies involving Lola - weaved together to form a novel. Or a memoir. Whatever.
And it is brilliant. Kimberling has a wonderful way with words. Take this scene in which Lola interrupts Nathan while he is working on a map.
"Let me see," she said, leaning over me. Her hand lay on my shoulder and her hair brushed my ear. She wasn't bone-thin and bedraggled like most of the student body, including me. She was composed of natural curves, not alien angles. Her lips were red from wine.
"Surveying stuff," she said.
"So that you can align your Kansas with my Missouri," she suggested.
"And lay your panhandle across my Great Plains. My New Orleans next to your Boston." She couldn't quite keep a straight face or a level voice.
We both laughed, and obviously I couldn't concentrate on angles any more. So we resumed our conversation in bed, we flattened Switzerland and drained Australia of sand and drove Mexico straight over Egypt, until we sprawled spent over Canada with log-heavy limbs and nothing on our minds.
You may read this and wonder why I didn't twig it was fiction earlier. Well, that scene is immediately followed by this one.
I spent the following couple of nights at home alone, studying.
Led D = ground distance, Let H1 and H2 be the nest heights. The distance between nests is the square root of D^2 + (H2 - H1)^2.
Example: D = 12 feet, H1 = 20 feet, H2 = 25 feet. The distance is the square root of 144 + 25, which is the square root of 169, which is 13. Therefore a pillaging crow flies 13 feet while a humanoid on the ground must walk 12 feet. This example assumes level ground.
On site, the relationship between a nest and a tree looked pretty straightforward. Re-creating and modeling the entire topography of the square mile containing that and other nests, in a computer lab after months of data collection, would be like playing a symphony by yourself after hearing it once. Every painstaking measurement was a single note in the score.
See? That reads like non-fiction, right?
I remain convinced that Snapper by Brian Kimberling is actually a slightly fictionalised autobiography. There is too much detail, too many moments that felt too real to be made up. That's my line and I am sticking to it. Whatever it is, it is an absolute joy of a book and I predict big things for it when it eventually emerges in May of next year.