Raft of Stars opens with a note from a 10-year-old boy, Dale Breadwin, to his best friend’s grandfather: “Please tell the sheriff that Fish didn’t want to shoot my old man.”
With Dale’s abusive father lying headshot behind them after a fight gone wrong, Dale and his friend, Fischer Branson, flee into the Northwoods of Wisconsin, pursued by the local sheri and Fischer’s grandfather.
The novel’s author, Andrew Graff, was born in Niagara, a town bordering Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with a population under 2,000. An Air Force veteran and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Graff returns to his roots for his first novel.
Claypot, the novel’s fictional setting, rings true. Graff has the Northwoods landscape down, the feel of a wooded, isolated place far from the tourist spots. He affectionately illustrates the peculiar makeup of towns where there are few jobs left outside of serving drinks and arresting drunk drivers.
Gra gets at both the beautiful simplicity that can keep someone in a town like that for their whole life, and the stifling boredom that can drive someone out the second they turn 18. As one character muses: “There was nothing but time in Claypot.”
For Wisconsinites who’ve spent time in the Northwoods, the novel is a heartfelt and enjoyable story with a welcome and genuine sense of place.