The writing of Seth Norman
The other day my friend and I did an exchange of sorts. He and his wife got oxtail. I got his left over beers, a good bottle of wine and the loan of a book. I should consider myself lucky. He would have digested the oxtail in a few hours, and I haven’t yet returned the last book he lent me. Truth be told the oxtail was an experiment: a mix of three rather dodgy looking online recipes, each of which attempt to condense the cooking time of oxtail from six hours to two, and none of which I followed with any dedication. And not only have I failed to return his last book, I haven’t even started reading it.
I was assured though, that what I consider a poor quality, gonzo picture of the author on the cover of this latest tome, should not put me off. Its the second edition.Bright blue surf breaking in the background. A bright red text box bearing the title. An arguably overexposed picture, but with the fisherman’s face in shade. 1970’s movie star blue reflective sunglasses, and after a while I noticed that the weird groin protrusion was in fact a fish, its form poorly contrasted between the mans legs and some or other rag being used as a glove to hold its tail. The right arm is held off to the side, clutching a fly rod rather clumsily……
OK, let me stop bashing the cover .
Inside is sheer brilliance.
My prejudice normally has me skipping chapters on bass, catfish and the like. Seth Norman’s skill as a writer had me relishing pieces on bait fishing! Actually the pieces on bait fishing, spinning and saltwater species, like those on Trout, were not about fishing at all. They are about death, love, lust, justice, schizophrenia, and nomadic travelling experiences. The fishing is just the glue that holds the pages together, and it serves to attract obsessed flyfishermen like me to topics broader than fly choice and casting techniques. Norman draws you into contemplation of your father’s death, your career and lifestyle choice, and your spirit of generosity or otherwise. He causes you to lose your mind. When he has you in there, he holds you there with fishing tales, and humour, and sentences that you read three times just to roll them around in your head a bit. I found myself wanting to suck the marrow out of the pages somehow. Maybe I will sleep with it under my pillow.
Allow me to quote a few lines:
“…..we’re four thousand feet into a narrow Sierra pass. Cliff wall to the right, cliff wall to the left and in the high beams we see a great white yacht broadside, an oceangoing yacht blocking the highway from shoulder to shoulder. “What’s that?” Mor asks, naturally enough……..
………….“No matter. I know another stream behind us and south. As we bed down in a campground, Mor in front, me over the cab, I hear him laugh again. “Noahs Ark. Does that kind of thing, do things like that happen often on these trips?’’
I consider . “Arks not so often. But a fishing trip is always a meander. You can’t quite know what will come up.”
“You like that?”
He pauses. We each have a small skylight to look through; through mine I can see an edge of cloud silvered by moonlight. Once more, Mor laughs, long, happily. “Of course. Of course you do. You’ve always liked that.”
If you enjoyed “The river Why” by David James Duncan, or “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”, you will enjoy this one for sure.
Not that my opinion counts in the shadow of a Pulitzer nomination, but Seth Norman, I salute you.
I must own a copy for sure, because this one will be re-read.
To the great Nick Lyons: I somehow only got to know about this book after its second edition ( It was first published back in 1996!) , but Sir…could you do something about that 2nd Ed cover ? A sunset maybe. A Trout? Revert to the first edition cover maybe? Maybe a rod and reel in soft light? No? Okay no problem, I am buying the book anyway.
The first edition is pictured left. I have ordered one…a second hand one. I found it on some or other online store. I hope it arrives. It cost half of next year’s Christmas bonus. I know, I’m an astute investor. No, you may not borrow it. Not even in exchange for good oxtail.