I have three main literary interests: 1. Michigan, 2. manhood, and 3. realism in the form of old-style storytelling. Dean Bakopoulos' 2005 debut novel Please Don't Come Back from the Moon satisfies two of the interests - Michigan and manhood - and as Meatloaf said "two out of three ain't bad." And sticking with random Meatloaf quotes (as any good book review should), "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that," may well be the mantra for the novel.
In the first chapter, the fathers of the Polish/Ukranian neighborhood of Maple Rock in Detroit begin to disappear one by one, presumably to northern Michigan cabins or to new jobs in Chicago or the south. Life goes on as normally as possible. Then a shoe store owner leaves a note when he vanishes. "I'm going to the moon," it reads. "I took the cash." Adios, realism. This note is no joke.
The sons of these absentee fathers believe, no, they know their fathers have literally left for the moon. Even if the boys pretend it's a joke and hold onto hope that their fathers will return, they know their fathers have left Earth. They feel it. Bakopoulos slips into what I've seen other reviews of his book describe as a kind of magical realism, but what I consider Detroit's introduction to allegory.
The fatherless, white, blue-collar boys start boozing and fighting in neighborhood bars. They skip school, deflower young women, disobey mothers, play with guns, and go on booze- and pill-fueled drives to northern Michigan in "borrowed" vehicles, hoping beyond hope to find a clue of their fathers. The mothers become depressed, then spiteful and permisscous, and ultimately drunk and detached from their sons. Without their fathers, the boys don't know how to become men, and their mothers don't know how to teach them. The boys are completely on their own, and doomed to a life of never ending youth.
This is what I see as the conceit of the novel. The city of Detroit - like other largely Black inner-cities - has one glaring problem that informs every other problem that befalls the city: Absentee fathers. The twist in Please Don't Come Back from the Moon is that this sad stereotype is overlayed onto a white, working class neighborhood. The reader watches as this fatherless community is ravaged, and declines into crime and hopelessness. The factory jobs leave and all that's left are minimum wage retail jobs, and eventually those jobs start to vanish too. No jobs, no fathers, addiction, and crime plague the neighborhood. The narrator Mikey often comments on the large amount of garbage and grime littering the once pristine streets. Is the reader supposed to feel this devastation more because the characters are white, or is this just Bakaopoulos' ticket into the life of the inner-city? It's hard to say.
Bakopoulos sometimes shifts into straight realism, questioning the fantasy. The sons grow to be men. They shack up with a woman, buy her son a new toy, drink her booze, mow her lawn. There is almost personal growth and development. There is almost hope. But just when the reader, right along with the boys, starts to feel "real," the sons develop a case of wanderlust, and like their fathers, are pulled toward the moon - literally floating from Earth, released from gravity. "Like an eye," Mikey says, "the moon follows us wherever we go." Perpetual failure is a learned trait that follows them through life. These sons of absentee fathers will do anything for the illusion of love - lie, cheat, steal, suffer, work, tough it out occasionally - but become men? No, they won't do that.