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Hunter's Moon: A Novel in Stories

Review

Hunter's Moon: A Novel in Stories

In HUNTER’S MOON by Philip Caputo, descriptions of northern Michigan, especially the beautiful Upper Peninsula, almost create stories of their own. The aquamarine plate of the bay distinct from the oceanic blue of Lake Superior is luminous. The lowering sun tints the sandstone gold. Birch trees, white as plaster columns, lean from the point. The characters, who Caputo draws so carefully, may not always see beyond themselves, but the reader is constantly aware of the immense grandeur of wildness and hints of a primordial world.

Seven stories connect exquisitely, overlapping with a character or an incident that occurs in another. In the first story, “Blockers,” two high school football buddies return to their small hometown to join a third, Bill Erickson, for their annual week of hunting. Bill is an alcoholic, and his wife, Lisa, is fighting the fight for him. Now the two blockers from a storied history of team play are asked to block for Bill once again.

"By weaving the Upper Peninsula landscape into the backdrop and the characters, [Caputo's] stories become vibrant and memorable."

“The Guest” brings back Lisa Williams, who was widowed in the first story. The cause of her husband’s death remains in question, and she has relocated to Manitou Falls to open a bed and breakfast. The precarious nature of this new solo venture has many layers. The guest who arrives in November for some days of hunting after the rush of the summer season brings introspection and an awareness of her own strengths. In the final paragraph of the story, on a cold winter’s morning, Lisa stretches her calves and thighs, and begins a jog toward the lighthouse. “At this house, there isn’t a soul between her and it.”

“The Nature of Love on the Last Frontier” is set in Alaska, which is indeed the last frontier. One of the hunters must prove his character to himself and his father. And both learn something about resilience and courage when a small mistake in judgment creates a catastrophic moment. The landscape can overwhelm individuals and reduce them to nothing, so each hunter must focus on the at-hand pieces of life. This is a remarkable coming-of-age story for both generations.

One of the most telling descriptions is that of Will Treadwill, a storyteller who gravitated toward tragedies, an inclination attributed to “a morbid streak in his nature or to the Upper Peninsula’s long, gloomy winters, maybe both.” In the final story, “Lines of Departure,” the ex-Marine explains a saying hymned in response to the lies they heard from generals, politicians and chaplains: Don’t mean nothin’, don’t mean a thing. When a best friend died for no good reason, when 42 men went up a hill and 19 came down, when a Dear John arrived at mail call --- the wisdom they found in this mantra rejected all comforting illusions and instead embraced the absurdity of war. This wisdom was the most effective vaccine against going crazy.

Each piece touches directly or indirectly on the effects of war on the soldiers --- those who return and those who did not go. Two veterans are asked to attend a seminar on the healing of PTSD for damaged men, but instead of talking the proscribed script, the narrator chooses to assemble his telescope in the freezing winter night. He shows the ex-soldiers the cluster of sparkling Pleiades, so brilliant, so far away, so tiny. He ends with, “Microbes on a grain of sand in the Sahara, that’s us.” Afterward, around an inadequate campfire, one of the men tells about the death of an Arab teenager in Fallujah. The veterans listen, and they acknowledge his pain by holding the man’s shoulders. The quiet of the campfire in the bitter cold does not have answers.

HUNTER’S MOON shows Philip Caputo’s understanding of tragedy and the events that are sometimes too much for the human soul. By weaving the Upper Peninsula landscape into the backdrop and the characters, his stories become vibrant and memorable.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on August 16, 2019

Hunter's Moon: A Novel in Stories
by Philip Caputo

  • Publication Date: August 6, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 162779476X
  • ISBN-13: 9781627794763