“A rousing adventure yarn full of danger and heart and humor.” —Richard Russo
An instant classic for fans of Jane Smiley and Kitchens of the Great Midwest: when two hardscrabble young boys think they’ve committed a crime, they flee into the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Will the adults trying to find and protect them reach them before it’s too late?
It’s the summer of 1994 in Claypot, Wisconsin, and the lives of ten-year-old Fischer “Fish” Branson and Dale “Bread” Breadwin are shaped by the two fathers they don’t talk about.
One night, tired of seeing his best friend bruised and terrorized by his no-good dad, Fish takes action. A gunshot rings out and the two boys flee the scene, believing themselves murderers. They head for the woods, where they find their way onto a raft, but the natural terrors of Ironsforge gorge threaten to overwhelm them.
Four adults track them into the forest, each one on a journey of his or her own. Fish’s mother Miranda, a wise woman full of fierce faith; his granddad, Teddy, who knows the woods like the back of his hand; Tiffany, a purple-haired gas station attendant and poet looking for connection; and Sheriff Cal, who’s having doubts about a life in law enforcement.
The adults track the boys toward the novel’s heart-pounding climax on the edge of the gorge and a conclusion that beautifully makes manifest the grace these characters find in the wilderness and one another. This timeless story of loss, hope, and adventure runs like the river itself amid the vividly rendered landscape of the Upper Midwest.
Though set in 1994, the wilderness odyssey that shapes Graff's rewarding coming-of-age debut has a timeless, archetypal resonance. After the death of Fischer "Fish" Branson's father, Fish spends summers with his grandfather Teddy in tiny Claypot, Wis. His best friend there is Dale "Bread" Breadwin, whose dad, Jack, is an abusive drunk. After Fish impulsively shoots Jack in an attempt to end Bread's suffering, the two 10-year-olds mistakenly assume he is dead. They pilfer supplies, leave a note for Teddy, and hide in the dense woods that border the town while they improvise a raft to flee Claypot by river. Teddy and the town sheriff, Cal, a burned-out former cop from Texas, look for them on horseback, while Fish's fiercely spiritual mom mounts a search by canoe with a young woman who works at a gas station and shares with Cal an unspoken attraction. By the time these six converge at a perilous waterfall, each has come to know more about themselves and each other. Though the resolution yields few surprises, Graff depicts the harsh Northwoods setting and his misfit characters' inner lives with equal skill. The dynamic quest narrative offers plenty of rich moments.