Will Weaver has won numerous awards for his writing, and his story "A Gravestone Made of Wheat" was made into the movie "Sweet Land." His memoir, "The Last Hunter: An American Family Album" (Borealis Books, 177 pages, $24.95), starts out haltingly, as if Weaver is comfortable with the material but is not sure he should be sharing it. It begins with the history of his family and the scene of their home in rural Minnesota. Weaver tells of his father's family, and then his mother's family, the Swensons. Chapter Two starts off being about his mother and then quickly switches to his father's family. It doesn't flow without effort.
But with Chapter Three, he hits his stride. By Chapter Six, he is in full gear. He writes about trains, which leads to the place where the deer liked to walk, which leads to a story of a particular hunting party. Then back to the trains, which don't run by here anymore.
And then another chapter, and another, and another little packeted gem. So subtly, with the finesse of a skilled writer, so easy that you don't even notice it, Weaver tells the story of his life and his relationship with the land. He takes us deeper and deeper into this fraternity of hunting, the difficult yet poignant relationship with his father, and how it came to be that Will Weaver was the last hunter.
Weaver's writing brings us to a peaceful place, bringing to mind cold in a good, crisp kind of way, the way that the world is hushed when it snows: "At other times, like that day, conditions favor the hunter. Low barometric pressure. Damp, gray, chilly skies. Light snow drifting straight down, muffling sound and scouring the air. Human scent does not travel well; like wood smoke falling down the sides of a cabin on a still day, it pools at ground level, stays close to the body. Underfoot, the oak leaves were limp and soundless. There was an incipience: something was going to happen."
It is sometimes a tease that he refers to so many old photos that the book does not contain -- they are little stories in and of themselves. And he also teases us with stories that he glosses over while telling a larger story -- the draft lottery in 1969, and taking his Grandpa Swenson to the Green Pine Acres Nursing Home. More, please.
There are layers and layers in "The Last Hunter." The stories of the older generation are layered atop Weaver's own experience, and always tied to the Weaver land. The far-flung new generation, though, is vegetarian, and time-starved. Still connected via technology, but not in the ways that it used to be. Cell phone towers blink at hunting stands, and venison is delivered by plane to Manhattan. Still, Weaver is optimistic. He seems to hold out hope that the natural order of things will prevail, and all will be as it should be.
Linda White is a writer and editor living in St. Paul.