||A Review of: From the Far Side of the River
by Richard Harvor
My late father-in-law was an avid (read: fanatical) fly-fisherman
(salmon); his most frequent query in my direction-a query which
persisted for years after we had first met-was "Do you fish?"
It seemed less a question than a proposal, posited offer, conceivable
induction into an elite, privileged club. A club that required
waking up at ungodly hours in godforsaken places and placing oneself
(suitably suited, armored in rubber) in goddamned cold water for
the "pleasure" of battling coquettish and/or hostile
tiny-brained slabs of flesh into submission.
Or maybe I just misunderstood the question. Paul Quarrington, in
From the Far Side of the River, is an affable guide to, and unraveler
of, the ritualistic quirks, the tangled, snarled idiosyncrasies of
fishing and fishermen. An instance: the fetishistic minutiae of
gear is addressed in two pieces ("Equipped to the Gills";
"The Lore of the Lure") in which Quarrington's deft,
comedic touch is in frothing evidence.
"Fishing-tackle sections have a sameness, whether they occupy
the whole of the sales floor or a shadowed corner in a huge hangar
of hardware goods. The lures and packages of hooks are pegged up
on holed half-walls. Beside and beneath them are strange devices,
mystifying constructions of tin and lead. It is hard to accept at
first that these strange things are appurtenances of angling. My
advice: ignore everything but the wall. If they can't hang it up,
you don't want it. Eschew the big stuff that needs to be stored in
cribs. Your object is to catch as many fish as possible, and while
a big fish may snap at a little bait, looking for a snack, a small
fish very rarely attacks something large."
A large part of the appeal of Quarrington's voice is attributable
to his blunt admission of the profound enigma central to fishing:
namely, the almost pathologically perverse unpredictability of the
prey, and the ultimate futility of any attempt to break down or
classify the component elements of their pursuit into quantifiable
and/or repeatable angles of attack.
In the book's strongest piece, "The Feminization of Fishing",
Quarrington, with gleeful vitriol, deconstructs not only the
intricacies of the power dynamics of the client/guide relationship,
but also captures the barely sublimated schoolyard viciousness of
macho posturing, its pack-mentality puerility masquerading as
competitive virility. Fishing in the Bahamas for the "elusive"
bonefish (a lovely, ghostly name), Quarrington finds his so-called
pal Jake ganging up with their obliquely, then nakedly, abusive
guide, the ultimately pathetic Maitland Lowe (a.k.a. Bonefish
Dundee). An escalatingly intolerable scenario which culminates in
a flaccid fizzle of a confrontation.
"Bonefish Dundee considered what I'd said. And then, alarmingly,
his face fell. It swayed and collapsed like a suspension bridge in
a Category 5 hurricane. Maitland Lowe looked at me miserably and
said, I'm sorry.'"
Somewhat torpedoed by its fuzzy-wuzzy closure, the piece is
nevertheless notable for the velocity of its raw vehemence, the
sheer whipped misery of its honesty. (Quarrington possesses a
precisely calibrated down-home tone which, on occasion, shears
hazardously close to an affected, aw-shucks ingratiatingness, a
borderline cutesiness mercifully sidelined by a thick whack of
Quarrington flounders somewhat in "Fishing Through Disaster",
an admirable attempt to merge the disparate (mono)filaments of Sept.
11, Quarrington's separation from his wife, his father's sudden
death, and fishing into a melancholic rumination on the fleetingness
of life, the role chance plays in it, and our collective special
grasping at significance. Quarrington even goes so far as to
assume-anthropomorphically-the persona of the fish, and, conversely,
his role in hastening its demise. In trying to contextualize the
monstrousness of the events of Sept. 11th and the inevitability of
death, period, within the trope of fishing, Quarrington falters not
so much as a result of any deficiency within the conflation itself,
but, rather, in that he doesn't push the envelope vigorously enough,
underplaying and sublimating the specific, personal rawness of
parental death and marital failure in favour of the more universal,
ghastly pyrotechnics in NYC. (Quarrington's shaggy-dog shamble
around the shambles of his marriage have a teasing non-specificity
Fishing constitutes a form of secular religion, an asceticism, an
adherence to rigid, solid codes baffling to the layman; it requires
stolid qualities of bullheaded intransigence, Beckettian patience.
(Quarrington strikes an intriguing note in approaching fishing as
more process than means to an end, more a series of balked,
anxiety-fraught increments superficially perceivable as stasis.)
Quarrington's book is a pastiche, a fishy collage of fishing
tales-it's wry, it's spry; fishing as big, goofy overarching metaphor
for life. In prose fluid as a flung fly.