Review: Jack C. Buck’s “Deer Michigan”

Deer Michigan

A ragged yell into the void,

a poignant letter to the past, Jack C. Buck’s Deer Michigan is a surreal, sometimes startling collection of flash fiction wandering in an out of reality on a whim. His debut collection, which came out last November, 2016, is certainly a success.

Sometimes the world just ends, the birds disappear, or Mao shows up on a camping trip. From the post-apocalyptic society in “National Forest Health Monitoring Program,” to the strange everyday horror of “The History of Furniture and Wood Flooring in East Texas,” Buck uses this wildly shifting tone to his advantage. Set against the sometimes mysterious and fabulist stories like “Floorboards,” in which a man hides the relics of an old friend’s death in his house, causing it to sink further and further into the ground while he hopes no one will notice, a story titled “When the Cubs Win the World Series” seems just as impossible and magical.

More often than these bizarre, fabulist tales, however, the best of his work lies in the fractured realities of his more realistic fictions. They show characters sometimes broken, trying to heal and establish rules and order in their lives, such as “write talk-talk if you have no one to talk-talk with.”

Because I think they give a better picture of the book than anything I could write now, here are some notes I took while reading. Some of them are just quotes that stood out to me, some of them are my first impressions followed by thoughts after reading. I had notes for each of the stories, but here are the ones that I think help the most:

“For Matthew”

  • “I don’t think it was ever much about the whiskey, it was more about the walks to the store.”
  • “already missing one another”

“It’s as if we never left”

  • “Let’s walk backwards down those roads, let’s sleep in front lawns of the old houses you liked in particular–“
  • “Why didn’t you paint that wall?”

“Filling in”

  • Well, fuck.

“home”

  • A lonely love letter to everyone and everything. It perfectly captures not knowing where home is while wanting it so desperately.

“Deer Michigan”

  • Faygo! Dear Christ, I love this guy. That’s Michigan in a nutshell.
  • “Dear Van, is there a heaven?”
  • “Your protest always made sense to me”

“Grand Rapids, MI”

  • “We had to make sure the rest of the world hadn’t forgotten about us”
  • Reminds me of Torres’ We the Animals

“Mount Pleasant, MI”

  • A really interesting image and emotion-not telling you what happens, only letting you guess.

“A Reference to Weather”

  • REALLY GOOD. His voice is in here.

“How Hank Does It”

  • A longer story, and a good one. It establishes interesting characters, although I don’t know if I like the ending. I usually don’t like endings, though.

“Floorboards”

  • Another absurd story, and one of my favorites.
  • He has this almost fabulist way of framing what might be an otherwise ordinary interaction.

“The History of Furniture and Wood Flooring in East Texas”

  • Me at the Beginning: I already love the title
  • Me at the End: Well, that was interesting. I think he let the story get away from him a little bit there. His prose isn’t as tight as in the shorter ones. Need to read again.

“Self-Help”

  • It makes me wonder, does all flash fiction happen after the turn in the story? This one begins with “It occurred to him…” Or is that simply another example of an inciting incident? Doesn’t all fiction happen just after something has happened and you can no longer go back?

“Drinking Whisky with Leon Trotsky Trout”

  • I laughed out loud in public-this was absolutely phenomenal.

A small caveat with the book is that it was difficult to get through. Each story is well written and evocative, but when you read too many of them, as I wrote in a note above, they begin to have a self-erasing quality. There are moments where it feels like one story speaks for multiple, and the book overall was made weaker for the inclusion of multiple flash pieces when one would have been sufficient. Although “How to Organize a Neighborhood Block Party” and “Things to Do” have different conceits when read apart, they both deal enough with family and personal connections that you get the vague feeling you’ve read this before, or that this is another story from the same character’s point of view.

Overall, the collection was great, and I’m excited to read more of Jack C. Buck’s work.

Signed,

Your Editor In Chief

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