Discussing best-selling author’s new book, which is set in U.P.

By Katherine Larson and Bryon Ennis
Two Marquette Monthly writers, Bryon Ennis and Katherine Larson, discuss Philip Caputo’s new book, Hunter’s Moon (Henry Holt & Company 2019). The novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author was published in August. The Upper Peninsula provides the setting for most of the book.

Katherine Larson: What a great book! I’m grateful to the New York Times Book Review for alerting me to its existence, because otherwise I might never have picked it up. That would have been my loss; Philip Caputo’s Hunter’s Moon is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Bryon Ennis: It was the Times that drew it to my attention too. First I read the review, which focused heavily on the Upper Peninsula, and I thought, “Holy smoke, here is this best-selling American author writing about our home.” Then, a week or two later, I saw that the newspaper published your letter criticizing the review, and I got really interested.

KL: Well, the book is what’s important here. Author Caputo calls it a “novel in stories”—seven of them, with overlapping characters, set in and around a fictional town that appears to be somewhat similar to Grand Marais, where what Caputo calls the Windigo River flows into Lake Superior. In my opinion, that name is significant: To the Ojibwe, windigos are monstrous supernatural beings, and humans can transform into windigos because of greed or weakness. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Windigo legends are essentially cautionary tales about isolation and selfishness, and the importance of community.”

BE: I had noticed how many of the place names in the book are UP-related but dislocated. A lake that Caputo calls Gogebic shows up in Wisconsin. The name Caputo gives to his town is Vieux Desert, which is actually the name of a lake on the Wisconsin border. There’s a real Windigo River in Canada, north of Duluth. And some places are both real and in their proper location, like Marquette and the Seney stretch. It made me wonder how the author could know the U.P. so well, so I asked him. This is what he wrote in reply:

“I first visited the U.P. in 1960 or 1961 with a college friend whose uncle owned a summer home on Duck Lake, near the old logging town of Watersmeet. He and I fished the lake and the Ontonagon River, and went grouse hunting in that general vicinity one autumn. In the spring, we hiked into the Huron Mountains, camped out, and fished for steelhead on the Huron River. I fell in love with the U.P.’s wildness and beauty. Some years later, after I returned from Vietnam (this would have been in 1967 or 68), I borrowed a page from Hemingway’s Big Two Hearted River, and went back to the U.P. for a couple of weeks, hoping the renewed contact with the wilderness and its clear rivers would help me get over the war. Subsequent fishing and bird hunting trips followed in 1969 and 1970.
“Owing to my work as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, I did not see the U.P. again until 1983, when I spent an entire summer in or near Grand Marais to research a novel titled Indian Country (published by Henry Holt in 1987). I went brook trout fishing now and then with Jim Harrison, an old friend. That fall, he and I and a mutual friend from Leelanau, Nick Reens, did some grouse and woodcock shooting near Jim’s cabin, two miles east of Grand Marais on the Sucker River (an unlovely name for a pretty trout stream). I’ve gone back to the U.P. every autumn, except three, ever since then…

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(Editor’s note: Make sure to read this issue’s Superior Reads column for another perspective on Hunter’s Moon. See page 54.)

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