Thursday, January 29, 2015

A superb collection of short fiction

Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon

By Cameron Pierce

Publisher: Broken River Books

Pub. Date: December 17, 2014

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Some may be surprised to know that fishing has been a theme is some very great literature. It goes back to at least Isaac Walton's The Compleat Angler which is as much as an ode to life in the 17th century as a guide to fishing. Then we have The Old Man and the Sea, and Moby Dick. I believe Thoreau wetted his line once or twice in Walden. Then there is Richard Brautigan's rhapsodic Trout Fishing in America which I suspect is a close cousin to the book I am about to review.

Our Love Will go the Way of the Salmon is Cameron Pierce's own ode to fishing. It may be too early to place it on the "great literature about fishing" list but it has its own milestone in my mind as the book by the author that clearly moves him from the Bizarro barrio to the realms of literature with a capital "L". It consists of 15 short pieces all related to fish or fishing in some way, shape, or form. They are all in Pierce's unique style of mixing the surreal with the mundane and leaving the reader in some kind of magical dilemma deciding what it all means. Some of the stories involves a talking fish with hands. The author wisely does not tell us the meaning of this but leaves us to decipher the creature in our own way. I see the fish as a harbinger of tragedy, sort of a symbol of the meaningless and misery in life we can never fully comprehend, but I am sure others may have their own interpretations. Again, this is literature and good literature doesn't do the work for you.

Pierce's passion for fishing is evident throughout the book. I understand this as I came from a family of fishing fanatics. Oddly I never got the fishing bug myself but I understand it. It is a special passion that says no matter how hard life is, there are always fish. It is a special passion that understands and embrace the struggles of life for all of nature's creatures. The joy is in the intimate struggle between the two adversaries. The fisherman has a special connection with his prey realizing that his pleasure is instantly connected with the trauma of the fish, just as our own lives are forever connected with the trauma of others and of life in general.

I believe Pierce understands this too. His stories are full of mundane and inexplicable happenings colliding with his own brand of magical realism. The title story paints fishing as practically a final ritual. "Sway" talks about the connection two people might find despite their terrible surroundings only to lose it when "real life" intrudes. "Short of Lundy" is an ode to father-son fishing ending with a list of imaginary trophies. "The Bass Fisherman's Wife" read to me like a Japanese folk tale until we reach the strange ending that could only be Pierce's. "Floodland" is one of the tales that involve the previously mentioned talking fish. It is one of the best stories in the book replete with odd imagery and sorrow.

All the stories, most fairly brief, are excellent. But there are two, the last ones in the book, that should be mentioned. "The Snakes of Boring" is the longest and finest piece in the collection. It involves a man who, with the help of two "friends", is taking "medicinal snakes" to Boring, Oregon with the idea of making a truckload of cash. It straddles the line between comical and tragic. Violent, funny and weird, it is a tour de force of narrative writing. The last story, not counting a short and heartfelt concluding statement, is "California Oregon", a moving piece loosely patterned like a "choose your own adventure" tale yet appearing to be strongly autobiographical. It questions the roads we take when we make choices in our life. Many of the author's stories seem to have a strong autobiographical nature to them and that only heightens the depth and passion of his works.

I have stated before that I greatly prefer Pierce's short fiction over his novels even though he is a masterful writer in either form. This collection only cements my opinion and confirms my prediction that he is the writer, in any genre, to watch over the next few years,

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