University alum Dean Bakopoulos’s first novel, “Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon,” is an amalgamation of “90210’s” sultry plot lines and “Death of a Salesman’s” theme of economic hopelessness. This might seem like a disastrous combination, but Bakopoulos pulls it off grandly.

The story follows Michael Smolij from his young adult years to full-fledged adulthood. Michael is of Ukrainian descent and resides in a fictional decaying Detroit suburb named Maple Rock. When he turns 17, his father leaves him, just as, one-by-one, most of the fathers of Maple Rock also leave their families behind. The fathers’ destinations are unknown, but one leaves a note saying, “I’m going to the moon.”

This sentence haunts Michael and the rest of the young boys of Maple Rock. They grow up wondering where their fathers went, and keep an eye out for any signs of their return. The children long for their fathers’ return or any contact, but their wishes remain unfulfilled. Their mothers, however, take on the roles their spouses played. They get drunk at the local bar, engage in brawls, and some are even escorted home by the police.

As the years go by, Michael and the rest of the boys mature and start families of their own. Their mothers remarry, move on and move out. Life closes in around the gap the absent fathers once filled.

Bakopoulos does an exquisite job of capturing the yearning felt by the young boys. He manages to combine, sex, drugs and alcohol ­­­— staples of American entertainment — with thought-provoking questions about struggling for financial freedom, single parenthood and essentially, surviving heartbreaking loss.

“Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon’s” main character Michael Smolij is a tragic hero in the legacy of Willy Loman. Bakopoulos tempers his visceral writing with biting comic wit, “I didn’t want to hear that my mother’s naked body was proof of a divine being.”

Also, as a University alum, Bakopoulos includes many references of the University in his first novel, reflecting the ins and outs of the campus.

The only shortcoming of “Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon” is the political tangent that Bakopoulos takes with the character Nick, Michael’s cousin. Nick is an employee at Liberty Bell Subs in the newly opened Maple Rock Mall. He tries to stage a mall employee sit-in strike inspired by the 1937 Flint auto workers strike. With this plot twist, Bakopoulos adds an unnecessary political angle to a book that’s already saturated with complex characters and complex emotions.

Nonetheless, “Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon” shows much promise. The issues the author addresses are important ones in this era of simultaneous tax cuts and budget deficits. Bakopoulos has created an intelligent and witty book that resonates in the reader’s mind and leaves an indelible mark.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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