The Deer Camp by Dean Kuipers
Dean Kuipers’s dad, Bruce, was a deficient father, prone to rage, mild violence, and a great deal of manipulation and emotional abuse. Bruce was a worse husband, abandoning his family for weekends, months, and years at a time in wanton, mostly open pursuit of other women, returning occasionally to reassert control over the lives of his wife, Dean, and Dean’s two brothers. The fallout was obvious and predicable: Nancy withered away under all-consuming stress as she struggled to single-handedly raise three boys; Dean and Brett filled with rage and resentment toward their delinquent father; and Joe, the youngest, turned to alcohol and drugs as his life careened toward a tragic, early end.
When Bruce called out of the blue to announce that he had purchased 100 acres of prime hunting grounds near their Michigan home—intended as a place of reconnecting with his three outdoorsman sons—Dean and his brothers, although intrigued, refused to take him seriously. But the land—a mix of sand, wild grasses, and scrub forest reminiscent of Aldo Leopold’s plot from A Sand County Almanac—captures their imaginations, even as Bruce strains to maintain the same autocratic control over the wild space that he wielded over family. But Dean, Brett, and Joe are persistent, gradually eroding Bruce’s stubbornness and initiating a project to restore the land, Leopold-style. To Dean, everything—the river system, a single person, or even the totality of human thought—can be imagined as part of the hierarchy of a universal system, constantly thinking and testing remedies to threats, internal or otherwise. His damaged family was a piece of that whole, and as the environmental scars of the deer camp were healed, or at least mitigated, the old familial wounds became manageable, if not eradicable. (A little Jane’s Addiction doesn’t hurt, either.) The book is raw, personal, and deftly written, and it seems likely that it was both a necessary and sometimes difficult project. The Deer Camp will please readers of two kinds of history: natural and family. –Jon Foro