Brothers cope with difficult circumstances in this debut novel set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
In 1994, Gage Gustafson drops out of college after spotting his girlfriend in the arms of another. Seeking consolation in alcohol, he spirals into self-pitying torpor until his mother, dispensing tough love, kicks him out of the house. At the same time, his beloved older brother, Roy, who’s married with two young children, seems to be the picture of success. He runs a thriving logging business and has a knack for shrewd real estate deals. But this happiness is merely a façade, as Roy is plagued by severe depression. His wife, Kaylie, often goes out with her friends, leaving much of the child-rearing to Roy (and Uncle Gage). Vowing to turn things around in his own life, Gage works on going back to college, moving assuredly toward a new dream of life as a financial planner. But Roy runs into fresh trouble when two dissolute brothers decide that he’s swindled them, and then Kaylie asks him for a divorce. Just as things are going well for Gage, dramatic events back home rewrite the script of his future, and unexpected information about a family tragedy propels him into a dangerous confrontation. Swanson’s novel offers an engaging, testosterone-heavy portrait of life on the Upper Peninsula, where it’s customary for men to disappear to their “camp” to hunt, fish, and drink every weekend. Ultimately, though, Swanson’s novel fails to truly engage its readers. The prose often veers between being clinical and confusing: “His pride was nearly nonexistent after pleading for answers unsuccessfully, but Gage refused to allow her to leave him standing there with his integrity gone.” Misused words also distract, such as “worrisome” instead of “worried.” In addition, the characterizations of women lack nuance, as they’re mostly portrayed as either angels or devils.
Awkward prose undermines this story of troubled siblings, despite its strong sense of place.