Adventures From the Life of an American Hunter
By Steven Rinella Spiegel & Grau. 244 pp. $26
Mitt Romney may or may not have been a hunter his whole life, but Steven Rinella definitely has. As if his position as the host of “MeatEater” on the Sportsman Channel weren’t enough evidence of his proud and outspoken red-bloodedness, his latest book, “Meat Eater,” offers proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Rinella has written the memoir of a seasoned hunter who’s brought home far more than just the occasional varmint.
The meat, if you will, of “Meat Eater” is a set of 10 hunts that Rinella recalls from throughout his life, ranging from shooting squirrels in his native Michigan at age 10 to stalking the mysterious Dall sheep in the depths of Alaska as an adult. There are moments in the boyhood reveries that are charming and even moving — the trials of a young buck eager to leave his mark on the great unknown.
Unfortunately, Rinella aspires to far more than writing a poignant memoir about a man’s relationship with nature. Instead, by the end, “Meat Eater” becomes a half-baked treatment of the “metaphysical issues of hunting” and a regrettable exercise in broad-stroke generalizations and amateur anthropology. “Maybe stalking the woods is as vital to the human condition as playing music or putting words to paper. Maybe hunting has as much of a claim on our civilized selves as anything else,” he writes in what seems a forced attempt to imbue his experiences with some transcendent, universal meaning. The worst, however, comes when he addresses what it means to oppose the idea of hunting: “To abhor hunting,” he declares, “is to hate the place from which you came, which is akin to hating yourself in some distant, abstract way.” Come again?
Given the number of non-hunters and even anti-hunters in the reading population — many of whom are likely to ignore “Meat Eater” because of its title and subject — Rinella deserves at least some credit for his foray into controversial territory, especially in a time when it’s becoming almost declasse to eat meat unapologetically. If only he could have stopped short of fishing for pseudo-Emersonian platitudes to describe the relationship of man to meat. When push comes to shove, isn’t it just the taste?