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Michigan Bookmark: Beauty, mystery suffuse in “The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot”

Mar 31, 2017

Credit WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2017

It’s no wonder Jack Driscoll has been singled out as one of America’s greatest writers. The ten stories in his new book are elegantly written.

They’re suffused with beauty and mystery and a deep compassion for the rough, yet good-hearted people who live in northern Michigan. 

Driscoll writes it’s a place “alive with millions and millions of glittering stars” where, “on clear nights, comets’ tails burn out right above us in disappearing arcs like tracer fire.”

It’s a place of broken marriages, of mean-spirited step-fathers and missing mothers. It’s a place where even those with good intentions betray their spouses and their children.

In one of my favorite stories, titled “A Woman Gone Missing,” Vanessa has been failed by everyone she has ever known. She is left without family, love, companionship, or meaningful work.  She has enough money to live on, but not to thrive. The story ends with a surprise, and it touched me so deeply I had to stop reading and stare off into space for a while.

The title story is another standout. It's infused with sexual and familial longing as well as a deeper kind of love.

Wayne is a teenager with a depressed mother and a bitter father. He is attracted to his best friend’s mom, Mrs. Lavanne, who enjoys floating on her back in water surrounded by wilderness. On the last night Wayne spends with Mrs. Lavanne, they sit in a boat adrift on Half-Moon Lake, her wet hair pressed to his cheek while she names the stars. Something about this night will stay with Wayne and infuse his entire life. He’ll earn a degree in fisheries and become a wildlife researcher. He’ll buy first one cabin, and then another on other wild lakes. And he’ll share with his children his love for the elusive, yet genuine sustenance found in water, in wilderness, in humanity.

The immensely rewarding final story in this compelling collection centers on Fritz. He’s a one-fourth Ottawa boy who has eyes “like night minus the moon.” Fritz and his friends decide they must get rid of his mom’s new boyfriend, a General Custer lookalike with the sneer of a small-minded bully. Should they blindfold him and escort him to the Quonset huts at the edge of town? Should they ambush him at the railroad crossing?

“There we’d be,” Fritz says, “the single high beam of our snowmobile bearing down like a phantom train about to pancake his sorry ass.”

In the end, Fritz arrives at a clear-sighted and life-changing decision. Afterward, the three boys ride off on the back of the snowmobile that has become their warrior horse. And as they soar over the snow, you’ll feel as if you’re flying with them, next to Fritz wearing a wolf skin, the horse tail they’ve attached to cover their tracks whipping in the wind.

Over forty years ago, Jack Driscoll drove out from Massachusetts and made northern Michigan his subject as well as his beloved home. Since then, he has shown us a landscape both magical and real, filled with love and with loss, illuminated by the brilliance of his writing and the stars above. 

Lisa Lenzo is the author of two award-winning collections of short fiction. Her latest book, Strange Love, was the recipient of a Michigan Notable Book Award for 2015. She lives in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Michigan Bookmark is a series that features Michigan authors reviewing Michigan books. Find more reviews here.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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