Hitz (White Knight, 2016) explores themes of childhood and family in stories of a lake and the creatures who live around it in this linked collection.
In these tales, set around the edge of Wisconsin’s Pike Lake, all manner of animals—including a few humans—learn about the world and one another through confusing, sometimes-fearful interactions. In “Frank and Stein,” a young field mouse gets caught in a trap while searching for food and finds herself caged up with a brainwashed lab mouse; both are now the pets of an 8-year-old boy who enjoys destroying stuffed animals. In “Life Cycle of a Toad,” a curious toad—a singer of melancholy songs—discovers a “green earthen lake” at the edge of the forest only to be captured by a monster. The ghost of a doctor/sculptor/inventor in “Death Masks” continues to haunt his old studio, where his grandson and namesake frequently goes to vent his frustrations about his father—the ghost’s son. The boy at the center of all of these stories is Barney Blatz, an emotional child who collects animals and throws temper tantrums. The chorus of witnesses who track his growth from boyhood to manhood on the shores of Pike Lake include Barney’s dog, Herzie; his brother, Charlie; and his sister, Pookie. Hitz employs a simple but descriptive prose style that captures his human and animal characters’ simplified worldviews: “Was he the only toad in the world? Perhaps the toad-eaters had gone on a rampage over the winter and eaten every toad but himself....What good was it to be alive if no one else was?” Not every story lands, and some conceits work better than others. However, the cumulative effect of the tales is fairly powerful. The many different perspectives present a view of boyhood that’s alternately destructive and innocent. Even more notably, the book reveals the obvious and hidden ways that one is shaped by one’s environment.
An imaginative coming-of-age narrative that explores the natural world.