Review by Deborah K. Frontiera
Having read the first book, this reviewer was eager to read North of Nelson Vol. II. In that first volume, Hilton Everett Moore related stories of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula from past generations. Volume II brings us from the 1950s and 60s to the present in the same geographic area and fictional town of Nelson. A “Time Line” of characters helps readers make the proper connections between past and present. However, each story does stand on its own, as short stories should.
Small town life in the U. P. is often romanticized, but Moore brings out the sometimes seedier side of it—the good, the bad, and the ugly. He also weaves in the complexities of life in the area, the conflicts of urban vs. rural, rich vs. impoverished, upper vs. lower class, developer vs. local economy vs. ecological preservation vs. public use. Nothing is simple, and his characters are as complex as the issues in the stories. They are “real” people, those many of us Yoopers meet on our streets and in our gathering places every day—good at heart, individualistic, pull-yourself-up people, as well as those who may be under or unemployed, alcoholics, and worse.
All the stories are rich in description, but here are a few highlights of Moore’s excellent writing.
From pg. 38: “Millie knew she was ‘caretaking’ Edward again, a task she had often taken on throughout their lives together. Her thoughts became like snow drifts that bucked the sled, sending frozen crusts into the frigid air as she drifted in a state of cold and ugly reverie.”
From pg. 51: “ …terrible cell reception between us was much like our strained relationship—a barbwire fence, something that, while quite visible to the naked eye was clearly a warning.”
From pg. 93: “I stare out the haymow door at the carcass and question why life tortures the lone farmer so. We live, not in harmony with nature as some humans naively believe, but in a constant struggle with the elements and the damnable man-made bureaucracy.”
From pg. 115: “No, he was certain, no one could flee from the inevitable force of the beast called Fate.”
Or pg. 125: “Mark had once wryly told Pastor Hank that he thought that there wasn’t much difference between a bar and a church anyway, as they both had a pastor of sorts and served communion. Hank wasn’t amused. As for politics, around here local government was rarely a necessity until shit of some sort hit the fan.”
Each story has its own plot and characters, great standing alone, but there is also a connection between them. In “Cell Tower”, Edward, who is paranoid and lives off the grid, repeatedly shoots out the lights on a cell tower he feels threatens him—the government is watching. “Ditch Dog” explores the relationship between a young man and his uncle, who lives in South Dakota and insists his nephew come to visit so he can teach him to hunt. It explores the givers and the takers in life and the fact that guys always embellish their stories. “Old to a Lone Wolf” demonstrates the conflict between rancher, wolves, and the DNR. Nothing is ever as simple as what the rest of us read or see in the media. Like “Ditch Dog”, it is in first person point of view. We get to know this farmer and his angus cows intimately.
But my favorite is “A Beast Called Fate.” Back in third person point of view, we still feel close to each of several characters, but mainly Mark, another struggling farmer trying to keep the only road to his property accessible to the public. It’s a fight the little guy rarely wins against developers. It’s a conflict the entire Upper Peninsula knows only too well—big companies come in, offering jobs and benefits that turn out to be less than promised and only temporary, buy up the best of U.P. resources and then leave things a mess. And all “the locals” want is to be left the heck alone. It reminds me of something my mother once said years ago—that she wished there were more jobs so young adults could stay in the area but that would “spoil what we have here.” Neither I nor my siblings were able to find good employment in our home area; I was only one to return in retirement.
The final story, “Lust and Lightning”, explores impossible relationships between the lower and upper classes. An upper-class young woman falls for an employee, while her rich ex-boyfriend carries on with another employee at their exclusive “Club” resort. (Echoes of the movie Dirty Dancing.) Brace yourself for an unusual connection among the characters—but I won’t be a spoiler and tell you.
North of Nelson, Volume 2 is the kind of book I will keep handy for a second, third, or even fourth read.
North of Nelson, Vol. II By Hilton Everett Moore
ISBN 978-1-7367449-1-8, Silver Mountain Press, Covington MI 2023, Ret. $21.95 paperback