Joseph D. Haske’s North Dixie Highway is a story of almost unceasing violence. Taking place across three timelines and centered largely around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it is violence that holds the narrative of Buck Metzger and his family together. The story centers around Buck’s youth and the murder of his grandfather at the hands of a rival of the family, and occasionally revisits Buck’s time serving in Bosnia, as well as the “present” of 1994 and his immediate return from the Army. In all three timelines, the reader is given an unflinching, and at times difficult, look at the descent of a boy into the grips of rage. This is not a story of morals, of redemption, heroics, or even clean resolution. It’s a tale much like life, in that way.
Haske excels at getting your hands dirty. North Dixie Highway is full of work, and rarely the kind that draws a paycheck. More often it’s the sort that fills bellies, keeps houses warm, and, as often as either of the former, buys a pint for the road home. In the sections of Buck’s youth, there is a constant grit in the mouth of the reader, washed down frequently by cheap whiskey or schnapps. The Metzgers are poor in material ways, but rich in loyalty and drive, and while most of them would be quick to ruin the family dinner, they’re just the sort you want around in a pinch. When Buck’s grandfather never returns from a hunting trip under mysterious circumstances, the family is quick to plot their revenge.
Before this plan ever takes place, though, the reader can already see in Buck not a desire for bloodshed in general, but the belief that violence is a swift and final solution to most problems. As he grows older, Buck’s exposure to this solution and his yearning for revenge on his grandfather’s killer wear away at his better edges, until the Army is his only way forward. Even there, in Bosnia, we see Buck as listless, unfocused, and the temporary moment of clarity he achieves — through a sniper’s scope, no less — is ultimately not the blood he seeks. He returns from his service to a life quickly gone to shambles. Though the novel wends through these narratives, skips through them, at times, it ends in a loose, unfulfilling denouement in the present — just as it should. While showing us Buck’s maturation in violence, the novel also shows the reader, in a kind of Grecian irony, that it is never the solution he, or we, might think.