February 28, 2005 12:00 PM

By Dean Bakopoulos


“Don’t think for a moment that because we were good, strong boys we could handle all of this: we couldn’t. We almost killed ourselves with rage,” says Michael Smolij, the 16-year-old narrator of Bakopoulos’s endearing first novel. It’s 1990 in downtrodden Maple Rock, Mich., and one by one, the fathers are leaving town. They desert their sons, their wives and their dim jobs, never to be heard from again. One leaves a note, “I’m going to the moon.” Really? Or has he simply escaped to a less burdensome life? This question haunts the sons left behind. Michael’s dry, honest voice tells their stories as they work brainless jobs, fail at love—and try to resist the patterns set by their fathers. It’s a tale that, despite the boys’ empty longing, is full of hope.

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