U.P.-based ‘Hunter’s Moon’ reviewed

By Victor Volkman
Hunter’s Moon, by Philip Caputo, is a nihilistic romp through the lives of military veterans set against the backdrop of a bleak Upper Peninsula. Caputo, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, is still probably best known for the watershed novel, A Rumor of War, that has gone on to sell multi-million copies since 1977.
In this year’s novel, Hunter’s Moon, he turns his telescope towards Michigan’s U.P. to tell a story about men and the messes their lives become as veterans of the U.S. military. The loosely connected stories introduce characters that return over the course of four decades to try and achieve closure with that which cannot be described to those who did not live the experience.
The final eponymous story of the collection brings this home, with Caputo’s thesis that “all war stories are false” because they cannot be told – only experienced.
In Caputo’s anthology, the U.P. is a vast and unforgiving wilderness, populated with broken people and those trying to escape one thing or another. Most of them, other than an innkeeper and a brewpub owner, are trying to cobble together a living from an amalgam of whatever is handy: hunting guide, truck driver, poacher and even a petty grifter. Caputo asserts that in the U.P., “food stamps were as good as gold and far more prevalent.” They take pride in building and renovating their own houses, often living far enough off-the-grid as to require a generator and the ubiquitous woodstove.
The U.P. stories take place either around the shoreline of Lake Superior or near a town called Vieux Desert, which I take to be Lac Vieux Desert, straddling the state lines between Wisconsin and Michigan in Gogebic County. However, in many ways, the U.P. could be standing in for upstate New York, Minnesota or any of the far reaches of the Midwest. In that sense, perhaps the U.P. is merely window dressing for the stories.
Advice to writers usually begins with “write what you know,” and as a veteran of the Viet Nam conflict, Caputo is most at home writing about vets dealing with the shrapnel of PTSD that cannot be excised: flashbacks, short-fused anger, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, startle reactions and so on. These psychic wounds gush forth much like the physical neck wound that Inman, a civil war soldier, suffers in the novel Cold Mountain…


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