From the Far Side of the River

by Paul Quarrington
ISBN: 1550549790

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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 cheery self-loathing.)
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 to them.)
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.

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