Tensions simmer in a family right before deer season in the Adirondacks; an awkward first novel following a story collection (Crow Man, not reviewed).
Gary Hazen is a forester in the North Country, in upstate New York, managing 40,000 acres for absentee owners. It’s not an easy life, and money is always tight for Gary, wife Susan and his sons, 24-year-old Gary David and 19-year-old Kevin. Yet Gary loves the woodsman’s life, and has conditioned his sons to love it too. Or has he? Gary David is obedience itself, but Kevin shows signs of straying from the reservation: He’s attending college and considering teaching, and his vegetarian girlfriend has persuaded him not to hunt this season. Gary has another problem: There’s a new environmental conservation officer, Josephine Roy, and the young woman will enforce all the hunting rules (Gary has been cutting corners to ensure enough venison for his family). Josephine is also having nocturnal trysts with Gary David, who’s too scared to tell his dad. Bailey’s principal theme is the nature of parental love, the importance of letting go. What he doesn’t have is a plot. We know early on the Hazens will encounter tragedy on the first day of hunting, but Bailey fails to develop a storyline that will lead us to it. Instead, we get diversions: The longest one involves a documentary film crew and some dead geese in need of painting (don’t ask). He does himself another disservice by using 13 narrators to tell his story, to pull the community into an essentially domestic tale, to involve the church, the diner and the saloon. This is Richard Russo territory, but Bailey lacks Russo’s steady hand. Narrative momentum goes out the window. When the tragedy finally occurs, without witnesses, it’s not the outcome of the father-son conflict, and that’s the biggest failing of all.
Conflict without confrontation makes for a very unexciting read.