Even in Hemingway’s Woods, Sometimes a Man Needs to Cry

Bruce Barcott in The New York Times:

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula encompasses more than 16,000 square miles of northern hardwood forest, broken here and there by hardscrabble towns whose year-round population is slowly bleeding away. In “Hunter’s Moon,” Philip Caputo’s powerful new collection of linked stories, the U.P. serves as a repository of damaged men. Elderly fathers are disappointed by their sons. Sons have goddamn well had it with the old man’s constant ragging. Lost jobs, bruised egos and failed expectations fill every middle-aged dude’s shopping cart. PTSD is as common as seasonal allergies. Like plastic swept into an ocean gyre, the wreckage of American masculinity seems to drift up to the U.P. and never leave.

The seven stories in “Hunter’s Moon” act as an unflinching reality check on the state of middle-age manhood at the close of the second decade of the 21st century. The Cialis tubs and wealth management ads that pepper every golf tournament telecast portray the American man’s empty nest phase as a silver-tipped victory lap. On the ground, though, the truth is ugly. The suicide rate among American men aged 45 to 64 rose 45 percent between 1999 and 2017. The states with the toughest solitary-cowboy reputations — Montana, Alaska and Wyoming — charted highest on the self-erasure scale. That is Caputo country. The writer who established himself more than 40 years ago with “A Rumor of War,” the classic memoir of his years as a Marine in Vietnam, now writes from the vantage point of an elder. Phil C., the author’s fictionalized self in the story “Lines of Departure,” notes that he and a fellow Vietnam veteran feel “obliged to dispense our hard-won wisdom to younger members of the soldier’s tribe. That I didn’t have much wisdom to dispense seemed beside the point.” Don’t take that display of humility as fact. Caputo’s wisdom runs deep. Few writers have better captured the emotional lives of men, their desperate yearning to improve them and their utter lack of tools or capacity to accomplish the task.

More here.