Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews Deer Michigan by Jack C. Buck.
Jack C. Buck’s Deer Michigan is a slim book that tends to teeter between flash fiction, prose poetry, and—dare I say—short form creative nonfiction. This is credited as a book of fiction, but at moments it falls into these retrospective moments that seem too real to be fictionalized. Buck dedicates this book to his family and friends and I couldn’t help but feel like this was a love letter to his past and everyone involved. It’s the blending of form that draws the reader in because it gets at a deeper human truth instead of getting bogged down by the facts of his history.
There is a tinge of sadness in Buck’s stories, but also a healthy amount of hope. Whenever you look fondly on the past there is a hint of melancholy because those moments are behind you. It’s great that they happened, but it’s a bummer because they’re gone and all we’re left with are the memories. I think this is where the hope comes in. Buck can retroactively look back on great moments—like sleeping on a series of roofs one summer or watching sports in a cramped living room with his family—and know his future is filled with not-yet-experienced memories. Since he believes these are an inevitability in his life, we by extension also believe there will be good moments in our futures.
In the story “Georgia” Buck says, “I was idly hauling across America. Half asleep, half awake, with very little idea of what I was doing and where I was going, putting my trust into something.” This passage is the heart of the book. This is what Buck is getting at through the micro-stories. It’s this idea that even he cannot quite put into words why he continues to try but knows deep down inside himself that he must do it. It is his default switch to hope, and live, and do his best.
Like Steven Dunn says, “Buck’s writing here is not trying to trick or dazzle you.” In Deer Michigan, Buck is boiling down everyday moments and at times hiding the deeper story in plain sight. Early in the book there is a good example. The story, “a list to do, think, write, remember, look forward to, and consider” is a to-do list. Most of the entries are innocuous like “Fill out reimbursement form for work” or “Get around to watching those movies my friends suggested.” Tucked in at the beginning of the list is “Sell the bicycle she left behind.” With the inclusion of this task the story stops being a cute exercise in daily monotony and morphs into a close look at a man practicing the art of self-diversion. He is in pain and the simple list is his way of trying to keep his mind off of her. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what she did or didn’t do because we’re watching how her absence is affecting this character. The story is between the lines and with each read through of the list the weight of his pain increases.
Growing up, whenever my dad tried to teach me a lesson or give me advice he would tell me an entertaining story from his youth and contained within each story was what he was trying to impart to me. He was giving me a blueprint of life through his own experience. In a way, Jack C. Buck is attempting to do the same thing with Deer Michigan. With the wisdom Buck has accrued so far in his life he is now passing it on to us. They are simple stories and, while you could read these at a surface level and enjoy yourself, there is enough contained within them to provide hours of dissection.