Deer Season by Erin Flanagan
9/1/21; 320 pages
University of Nebraska Press
Deer Season by Erin Flanagan is a very highly recommended
character driven novel wrapped around a mystery. This is a beautifully
In Gunthrum, Nebraska, the 1985 deer season is opening and Alma and
Clyle Costagan's intellectually disabled farmhand, Hal Bullard, 28
years-old, has been invited to join two other local men on their weekend
hunt. Alma, a pessimist by nature, is concerned for him considering who
invited him along. Instead of staying away the whole weekend, Hal
returns Saturday night and is seen at the OK bar. When he shows up at
the Costagan's Sunday he claims he shot his first deer and came home
early. He also has a dent in his front fender, which he may have gotten
hitting his garage again on Saturday night, and blood in the truck bed
from the deer.
On the same weekend 12 year-old Milo Ahern is being confirmed in church that Sunday. When Milo goes to wake up his 16 year-old sister, Peggy, she's not in her room and later, when she can't be tracked down anywhere, she is reported missing. Gossip begins to swirl around Milo's early return and the condition of his truck. Residents of the small town quickly spread rumors and gossip that accused Hal of violence against Peggy, in spite of the lack of proof. It does not help matters that Hal has a crush on Peggy. Milo is much more observant and thoughtful than most of the adults around him.
Deer Season is an exquisitely written literary novel. While the plot follows the reaction of the citizens of the town during the search for Peggy,
the focus of the novel is an honest and compassionate character study
full of attentive, intelligent observations. The characters are fully
realized, complex individuals with faults, shortcomings and emotional
damages, but also with honest knowledge and awareness of the small
community around them and their faults. There are heartbreaking
revelations and thoughts shared by both Milo and Alma and they will have
your total empathy.
Alma and Milo are the primary narrators in the novel and the plot unfolds through their points-of-view and their observations of the events surrounding Peggy's disappearance. While the mystery of Peggy's disappearance gives shape and purpose to the plot, the rich characterizations give the novel a depth and sensitivity that propels it to a standout mystery novel. Underlying themes include the contemplation of what it means to be a family and a question of how far would you go to protect those you love.
With the complex characters and the satisfying and surprising conclusion, Flanagan has written a stunning, extraordinary debut novel. Deer Season would be a wonderful choice for book clubs that like to discuss literary fiction.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the University of Nebraska Press for TLC Book Tours.