As if lured by the call of an invisible Pied Piper, the hard-working, hard-drinking men of Maple Rock MI inexplicably disappear from their heavily ethnic Detroit suburb. “I’m going to the moon,” one man explains in the note he leaves after cleaning out the cash drawer of his shoe store and walking away from his wife and kids. Michael Smolij, the narrator of Bakopoulos’s poignant coming-of-age novel, is sixteen when his Dad loses his job, packs the car and drives away, as the boy stands and watches. In time all the men in the tight-knit community abandon their families and their responsibilities, leaving the women to anger and divorce and the kids to disillusionment and despair.
With his two running buddies, Mickey struggles through a beer-fogged adolescence marked with petty crime and anger. “We almost killed ourselves with rage,” he says. Indeed, their fury resonates through every page of this terse, gripping debut novel.
Though the men’s exodus is never explained and their fate never revealed, we understand that they act out of a dual sense of futility and disenchantment. As their factory jobs evaporate, so, too, do the men in this sometimes surreal story, one that can easily be read as an allegory for the rapidly changing landscape of the nation’s work place and the erosion of the American dream.
For the most part, the wives of Maple Rock surmount their anger and survive. It’s the children, like Mikey, who form the lost generation, the fatherless youth who remain burdened by the weight of betrayal. Young Michael grows up branded by his father’s callous act and haunted by his mother’s belief that all men possess the capacity to leave behind, at a moment’s notice, the world they know.
Feeling unloved, unwanted and unworthy, Mikey stumbles toward adulthood in an environment built around low expectations and poor-paying mall jobs. “We’d long ago lost the idea of permanence as a possibility,” he laments as he looks back on the past and ponders an uncertain future. Against all odds, Michael carves out a slice of normalcy. But he knows the day will come when he’ll get the urge to follow in his father’s footsteps, and he lives in mortal fear that he, too, may end up on the moon.