Seven linked stories explore aspects of contemporary manhood.
Though all but one are set in a small corner of Michigan’s remote, rugged Upper Peninsula, the seven stories that compose this collection are anything but claustrophobic. Probing deeply into the male psyche, Caputo (Some Rise by Sin, 2017, etc.) confidently tackles subjects that include the sometimes-catastrophic price of failure, the relations between fathers and sons, and the emotional battles faced by returning combat veterans. While hunting figures prominently in most of the stories—like “Blockers,” in which three high school friends reunite on a fateful weeklong bird-hunting trip, or “The Nature of Love on the Last Frontier,” set in the Alaskan bush as a father and son lock horns in a tense generational conflict that turns life-threatening—even readers unfamiliar with that pursuit will find themselves immersed in Caputo’s fast-moving narratives. In vivid and minutely observant prose, he writes with assurance about his characters’ wilderness experiences and with equal sensitivity about the captivating natural beauty that surrounds them. Will Treadwell, a Vietnam veteran and one-time owner of a popular local brewpub, appears in five of the stories, including “Dreamers,” which is built around an incident of frightening violence, and “Lost,” an understated evocation of the terror of accidental isolation in the unforgiving forest. His recurring presence is a quietly effective linking device. “The Guest,” a portrait of an episodic middle-age affair and the only story with a female protagonist, brings back Lisa Williams from “Blockers” years after her life has been altered irrevocably by the events of the earlier story. The collection’s final entry, “Lines of Departure,” again features Treadwell and a narrator named Phil, whose biography bears some resemblance to Caputo’s own. Unfolding at a weekend retreat for troubled veterans, it’s a compassionate glimpse of how “the psychic pain of war’s aftermath could be as isolating as acute physical pain” and a fitting conclusion to an intense, often unsettling journey into the male mind and heart.
Expertly blending plot and character, each of these taut, propulsive tales possesses novelistic depth.