Readers picking up this book should be forewarned by its title: this is nostalgia with an edge. Novelist and award-winning poet Tim Bowling grew up in the 1960s in Ladner, on the banks of the mighty Fraser River in coastal B.C., a 20-minute drive from Vancouver. No longer the farming and fishing town he once knew, Ladner is now filled with expensive housing that caters to retirees and commuters. It’s one of those towns that would probably be featured in a “vanishing B.C.” feature.
The youngest in a family of six, Bowling writes exquisitely of his experiences as a five-year-old “Tom Sawyer” running freely in a community where the biggest worry was whether or not the sockeye were running. His father was a fisherman, as was one of his brothers, and the times that the author spent fishing on the river and roaming its muddy banks are indelibly imprinted on his mind.
Using salmon and its spawning journey as a central image, Bowling laments his town’s near-extinction from the vantage point of his present situation as a husband and father living in Edmonton. As he trawls his memory for the experiences that shaped him, he frequently pauses to vent his anguish.
It’s a thin line to walk, however. Bowling is a skilled poet who knows the value of images and the magic of mood, and where the story relaxes into memoir, it’s enjoyable. Where it tenses and blames, it is less successful. Rants rarely satisfy readers.