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From the Far Side of the River: Chest-deep in Little Fish and Big Ideas

by Paul Quarrington

Paul Quarrington is at it again with the fish. From the author of Whale Music and Fishing with My Old Guy comes From the Far Side of the River, a collection of essays, reflections, and even a short epic poem on the restorative powers of angling. Here Quarrington reflects on the inherent conflict between late-night drinking binges and early-morning fishing trips, and the sublime feeling of a fish – life itself – tugging on your line, acknowledging your existence.

Being a self-conscious Canadian author, Quarrington tells us early on of the well-known ability of fishermen to embellish a yarn, so our guard is up against the unreliable narrator. But not for long. Quarrington is as self-deprecating a humorist as he is passionate a fisherman; he’s as fond of drinking as he is of fishing and this admission of vulnerability is disarming.

We feel Quarrington’s pain when his fishing guide in the Bahamas, Maitland Lowe – a.k.a. Bonefish Dundee – only half-jokingly, and with the encouragement of Quarrington’s fishing buddy, tells the narrator to “sit your fat ass down” and let someone else have a go fishing from the front of the boat.

Quarrington’s candid disclosure of his marital collapse – he wrote part of the book from a friend’s basement apartment – and his father’s death lend a melancholy note to the solitary figure in the bow. We understand why for him “…fishing was not so much an elective activity as the only one I was capable of.”

One of the problems with fishing books is the minutiae of lures and flies and casting techniques, which tend to make the eyes of ordinary readers glaze over. Fishing enthusiasts are apt to do the same because they already know the efficacy of the Williams Wabler versus the Grey Wulff lure. But this quibble shouldn’t stop anyone from taking the bait of this charming and funny literary journey through the piscatory world.