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Please Don't Come Back from the Moon Paperback – January 2, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
"When I was sixteen, my father went to the moon." Thus begins this debut novel about the mysterious disappearance of the men from a working-class suburb of Detroit. They go gradually, one by one, leaving for parts unknown—though more than one mentions the rocky orb up above. Michael Smolij's father is one of the last to vanish; once he's gone, Michael's musician mother plays "Norwegian Wood" on her violin, then takes two jobs to make ends meet. Michael, like all the boys in the neighborhood, has to grow up fast, working at the mall while taking community college courses. When Michael's mother remarries and moves away, leaving him the family house, Michael lands a job as a writer at a local radio station and starts dating a single mother with a five-year-old son, as if in an attempt to singlehandedly forge a new family for himself. The process of settling down, however, awakens a strange restlessness in him. Magic serves more as an emotional undercurrent than a mystery in this odd novel, part fable and part gritty realist chronicle. As Bakopoulos writes in an author's note, the book is a kind of elegy for his father's generation of downtrodden working-class men, but their disappointments are tempered by the modest hopes and ambitions of their sons in this gentle and moving tale.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
The term “heartbreaking” appears frequently in reviews of this debut novel, whose title is derived from a Charles Mingus jazz composition. With its undercurrent of magic and social satire, Michael’s coming-of-age story struck a strong chord with most critics. The main character is, at times, annoyingly indecisive, but the 12 years of his life presented in this compelling story ring true. Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon should be read as a tribute to the past generation of working-class American men.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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"Streets full of people, all alone
Roads full of houses, never home
A church full of singing, out of tune
Everyone's gone to the moon."
(from "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" by Jonathan King)
It fits, because Bakopoulos has given us a strange and moving story which covers a twelve year period in the life of Michael Smolij, whose father drove away and disappeared one day when "Mikey" was sixteen. And Roman Smolij (who, judging from the fragmented memories Mikey has, was probably a manic depressive) was only one of many fathers who abandoned their familes in that devastating time of layoffs and downsizing. Fathers demoralized and ashamed that they could not provide for their families. Mikey's friends Nick and Tom were also left fatherless. So many fathers disappeared that year that the sons, left behind on the cusp of manhood, came up with a fantastic theory that they had all gone to the moon. And this is the somewhat surrealistic premise of Bakopoulos's story. A rather shaky basis for a novel, but, after a rather lumbering start, it takes off and engages your attention - it works.
Told in the first person by Mikey Smolij, who loses his virginity to one of the abandoned wives, then moves aimlessly from one relationship to another, working pointless minimum wage jobs and spends his free time drinking with his buddies. It is, I think, an accurate depiction of many rootless young men from that generation the media labeled "X."
There does seem to be an element of the magical and fantastic woven throughout Mikey's tale of teenage and then twenty-something angst, and you know he's headed for a possible repeat of the disappearing fathers act. Finally married with a couple kids, one night, in a nameless panic, he gets into his car and drives -
"My heart pumped away, skipping beats, on the verge of implosion. I drove out of the city, out of Detroit, and up toward Flint, then farther still, toward Alpena. By sunrise, I was very far away from the life I was living."
Mikey does turn around and go back, but this particular passage brought to mind another young man who got in his car and drove and drove, trying to escape his problems. Bakopoulos does not write like John Updike, but Mikey Smolij and his pals often reminded me of Harry Angstrom, who repeatedly panicked and ran from his entanglements and responsibilities. But Smolij is different from the jumpy anti-hero of Rabbit, Run; he has a conscience and lives more in his mind than just "inside his skin." This redeems him. He comes back and faces up to things. He loves his wife and his children. But he remains afraid. Afraid that things could fall apart, that he would be unable to take care of his family, that he would give up and disappear like his father did.
Another book I thought of while reading Bakopoulos was a memoir by another Detroit area writer, Sven Birkerts' My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time. Like Mikey Smolij, Birkerts was a reader, worked in a bookstore and had vague aspirations of writing.
Remembering my own scrambling days of college and grad school, already married with a baby, I could relate to Smolij's fears of not succeeding. It's a fear that I suspect many young husbands and fathers share, of not being able to provide, of not measuring up, and especially of the awful responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood. In that sense, PLEASE DON'T COME BACK FROM THE MOON is an Everyman tale.
I may have to try Bakopoulos's new one now. But his book, his first, was very good. I will recommend it highly.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
The book is narrated by Michael Smolij who is the son of a hard working, blue-collar dad and non practicing violinist mom who along with his friends and much of the town he lives in goes through an experience where their dads disappear one day. It is told that they went to the moon but in truth that is a metaphor for having just up and run away from what were difficult circumstances in a dying Detroit suburb. Michael has to more or less raise himself and his brother as his mom took on two jobs to support the family. We see Michael grow up pretty much ignoring school to send time with Nick and Tom his best friends. They get into all sorts of trouble but miraculously kind of make it out the other end pretty decently. We learn about Michael's various girlfriends and loves--some of which are quite passionate and serious. He settles down in the end with an unlikely co-worker and her son and they themselves have a daughter. The end of the book is kind of odd as we are returned to the theme of the moon and people going to the moon. It brings the reader into a bit of an alternate reality that I typically don't like in books---but the author does a good job not making it seem too totally crazy.
Overall a surprisingly good book. I thought it was going to be a science fiction-like thing based on the cover and short description but was pleased to see it was a book about the coming of age in tough times for a group of young men. I enjoyed it a great deal and recommend it to others.