Paul, who’s now a professor of Russian literature at Michigan State, narrates the story and captures the loving, awkward dynamic between the men:
“You’ve probably heard a story about ex-high school sweethearts who meet decades later, discover that the emotions of first love haven’t faded, divorce their spouses and pick up where they left off. In the same way, Tom and I found that our relationship with Bill hadn’t changed. We fell right back into our guardian roles. For a week of nights for six autumns in a row, we made sure he didn’t do grievous harm to himself, dragged him out of bars, waltzed him into bed. It got on our nerves but was nothing we couldn’t put up with.”
It falls to Lisa, Bill’s wife, to fill the boys in on the truth. She’s been spiking Bill’s orange juice with Zoloft. He’s too stupidly proud to take the antidepressant on his own. To do so would be admitting he needed help.
A similar affliction troubles Will Treadwell, the brew pub owner and hunting guide. In the story “Lost,” Will sells the brew pub and finds himself unhappily retired at age 64. After a dimwitted argument with a colorful local character named Skryd (about whom this reader hopes to read more, perhaps in a future novel), Will tailspins from a deep brood into a prickly depression. His wife, Maddie, makes him confront the demons that are chasing him. “To his own surprise, he does,” Caputo writes. “To his surprise because he’s a former Marine, because he doesn’t come from people who readily confide their troubles to others — no, not even to their spouses or closest friends. To do so is a sign of weakness.”
For solace Will runs to the woods — to a spot near the Two Hearted River, the Upper Peninsula waterway made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1925 short story. Readers of “Hunter’s Moon” will not be shocked to find that the woods don’t solve his problems. It may be Caputo’s way of telling us that now, almost a century after Hemingway wrote that piece, we know this much: A stoic, manly week in the woods isn’t enough to cure the deep wounds of war.
A bill has come due. Decades of American male bravado, of Hemingway woodsmen and Clint Eastwood cowboys, of rugged individualists driving manly trucks alone, have given us the suicidal wreckage of American masculinity. Philip Caputo is 78 years old and he’s seen enough. Punt the pretense and tear down the tough-guy facade. In “Hunter’s Moon,” he all but begs his countrymen to ask for help and open up: Take care of one another, you bighearted lunks, you stubborn fools, you American men.