I thought that I had gorged on enough fiction last week that I could let it go, but apparently not. I not only picked up Anita Shreve‘s novel The Weight of Water this week but also read Marie Phillips’ Gods Behaving Badly and just finished Holding Lies by John Larison. The weather had better get warm soon, or I won’t get any sleep, because I’ll just keep staying up late to satisfy my inner bookworm. I’m clearly reading so much fiction in order to stave off depression. A lot of you probably wish you were dealing with a little cold, instead of with record heat, but they’ve predicted 20°F (-7°C) here tonight, with snow, and I’m getting pretty tired of it.
Unexpectedly, my favorite of these three novels was Holding Lies. I say unexpected, because the book is by a river guide about a fishing guide, Hank. Hank is fanatical about the river and steelhead, and there are long descriptions of various types of river features, with their lingo, and information about where the fish linger when (and why). I couldn’t care less about learning all of this, as I have no interest in fishing, and yet it was all so beautifully written, that I could feel myself there, worrying about which gear to use and how to through the perfect fly in the right spot, immersed in the majesty of the scenery. And, in any case, the fishing jargon is only a backdrop to the drama of Hank’s inner life, as he struggles to find a way to ask the woman he loves to marry him, to prepare for and deal with a visit by his grown-up and somewhat hostile daughter, and search for the person who killed another fishing guide. Hank has his share of inner demons, some of which we learn about early in the novel, and some which appear towards the very end as Hank learns about himself and grows up a little throughout the course of his daughter’s visit.
I found the culture of river guides who both do and don’t share river secrets with each other and who work together to save the wild steelhead to be fascinating. Since I live in the Northwest, and I love eating both Salmon and Steelhead, I was already interested in saving the wild fish, and familiar with the issues around putting hatchery fish into the genetic pool, so perhaps I was more easily drawn in than someone from another part of the world would be.
There were a few places where I would have liked to see the novel dig more deeply into the characters, and I thought the cop’s pursuit of the murderer seemed too half-hearted, but overall Holding Lies rocked me gently in its poetry, in the same way as Norman Maclean‘s A River Runs Through It, though with more tension. Holding Lies is billed as a mystery, but the main mystery is Hank’s heart, not who killed the young guide.
I guess that I should have realized Anita Shreve would disappoint. I read The Pilot’s Wife a couple of years ago and thought it was a bit lame, and I felt the same way about The Weight of Water. It’s okay, but it doesn’t quite hang together. Shreve overlays two stories: one about a double murder that occurred on an island off the coast of Maine in the 19th century and one about a photographer, Jean, who comes on a small boat with her husband, daughter, brother-in-law, and brother-in-law’s girlfriend to investigate this old case for a magazine. The only real parallel between the stories seems to be that Jean reads about and thinks about this murder while she is offshore of the island, and discovers an unknown journal which tells who really committed the murder. This journal tells an intriguing, if unbelievable, story, but the modern-day one of vague jealousy and temptation has little punch. Somehow, we don’t get to know the modern characters well enough. We don’t see into their depths and feel their passions. And then, the tragic ending seems contrived, as if Shreve was allowed only so many pages and when she got close to her allotment she put in a quick death and stopped before she could show us the dramatic emotions which must have followed. She steps back and only gives a summary of the consequences as if she is afraid of expressing those emotions on the page. She failed to make me care very much about what happens to Jean or any of the other characters.
I read Gods Behaving Badly because of a recent discussion on a FB group, which didn’t make much sense to me, so I just had to find out what on earth they were talking about. I should be too embarrassed to tell you that I enjoyed the campy excess, but I guess I’m not, because I did until I reached the last few chapters, where the novel lost its focus. Somehow Hades, who could have been very funny, was simply boring.