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B.D. tries to figure out why he’s so attracted to Gretchen. “He suspected it was what everyone called love, something he couldn’t get his head around, he supposed, because he didn’t have a mother he could remember. You start out loving your mother, and then you move on.”

B.D.’s purpose in life is to do the real and decent thing, even when it might not be strictly speaking legal, which is why he protects Rose’s children when she is sent to prison (for biting the finger of a police officer clean off) — the whip-smart Red who will find success in life, and Berry, the mute and lovable fetal-alcohol syndrome child who will not.

Over the course of the six interconnected novellas, with their reappearing cast of interesting characters, Brown Dog’s travels even take him as far away as Los Angeles, definitely not B.D. territory, but, characteristically, he adjusts to and even likes it, though the pull of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula remains constant and strong.

The last time I read a book by an American writer that made me smile, laugh and then reflect on a deeper meaning, all in the same paragraph, I was reading about that oh-so-American boy called Huckleberry Finn, who, if you remember, lit out for the territory rather than become “civilized.” You think maybe the territory could have been the Upper Peninsula?

John Greenya is a Washington-area writer.