Haymaker is a peaceful, picturesque town on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula nestled between the White Sable Dunes and lush forest. Haymaker prides itself on its independent past – it arose from a tumultuous culture of lumbermen, “gamblers, prostitutes, and miscellaneous roughnecks”— every September, the town celebrates this past in “Boomtown Days.” The town depends on tourists – the adventurous ones who visit in the winter for an opportunity to wrestle nature and those who visit in the summer to hike the dunes, soaking up the Lake Superior sun. The locals appreciate these tourists – their dollars and the fact that they leave. Those that stay are challenged to an annual fist fight with local Donnie Sarver. Even Roosevelt, an eccentric millionaire known as the Man in White, is still viewed as an outsider after living in Haymaker for thirty years.
In the Prologue, the author writes: “Take this town and suspend it in time. Hold it with laced fingers, like the worker holds the trapped sparrow he’s found in the fireplace. Then store the memory away. This town’s about to change.”
The change begins when the libertarian organization called The Freedom Congress, after an in-depth search, identifies Haymaker as its utopian flagship community “where the self-evident truths of personal liberty can take root, growing and prospering to create the America our founding Fathers intended.” Haymaker is ideal for several reasons. First, it’s people: they enjoy “elbow room” and the right to live as they see fit. They come from hardy stock: lumberjacks, sailors, fishermen and miners – “they put the ‘rugged’ in ‘rugged individualism.’” The Freedom Congress sees the populace steeped in libertarianism, even if it does not fully know it, and they naively believe that they would blend in with the existing community and be welcomed. Second, its beauty: “[i]f you seek the kind of untouched liberty that our forefathers intended, we invite you to seek it in a place that’s equally untouched, as pristine as it was in 1776.” Third, its freedom: namely zoning laws – people’s property is theirs and the government cannot step in and “force them to have a deck inspected, or force them to participate in curbside recycling, or force them to remove an old Ford chassis from their backyard.” Haymaker has lots of land to build and its small enough so it will nott take long for new libertarian voters to start putting their people in positions of power and voting for a libertarian agenda.
The plot of the book is the story of the migration of The Freedom Congress to Haymaker, its ensuing conflicts with the locals and the struggle for community, power, and freedom. The climax is the mayoral election with the libertarian candidate opposing the local candidate and voice of reason: Roosevelt, The Man in White.
A perfect read for this election year, Haymaker delves into the question of the role of government in our everyday lives – its benefits, costs, and restrictions.
Adam Schuitema has a knack for vivid, memorable characters and lush descriptions of their environs – evident both in his previous collection of stories Freshwater Boys and this novel. Both were named Michigan Notable Books by the Library of Michigan. Adam earned his MFA and PhD from Western Michigan University and is an associate professor of English at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids. He will be appearing at the Book Nook Book Club at 6:00 p.m., Monday, June 6 for a book signing and discussion of Haymaker – everyone welcome. Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, June 6.