THE FISH'S EYE: ESSAYS ABOUT ANGLING AND THE OUTDOORS
by Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $20) Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main, 624-6600 7:30 p.m. Fri., April 26
IF YOU THINK golf or sailing are boring, inscrutable, snobby subjects of no interest to the common reader, just consider the stigma that fly fishing has to overcome. Ian Frazier would be the first to admit it. The veteran contributor to The New Yorker, Outside, and The Atlantic—where these 17 pieces originated—knows how, to the uninitiated, (1) almost nothing ever happens when fishing; (2) when it does, it's mostly underwater and therefore invisible; and (3) you've generally got nothing to show for it afterward. (This third point assumes modern catch-and-release ethics.)
So why should anyone who doesn't already own hip waders bother with the slim, 164-page collection? Its contents are hardly essays; they're merely short magazine features drawn from 23-odd years spent on rivers ranging from New York's Hudson to Montana's Bitterroot. They're also redundant, repeating images and anecdotes, lacking the unity of purpose Frazier brought to On the Rez or Great Plains. They're also not so funny as his prior humor collections like Dating Your Mom or Coyote v. Acme, which further limits the appeal.
And yet, because of Frazier's prose ("unidentified fish with colors as luminous as an expansion team's") and acuity (e.g., how "an off-road gathering of parked cars doesn't lie" to an angler searching for prey), fly fishing almost begins to seem, well, interesting to the layman. Sure, it's still elitist, and Frazier admits the sport's whiteness, maleness, cliquishness, and clannishness. But it's also democratic, an activity practiced among Manhattan's rotting piers and along New Jersey's fetid suburban culverts, not just the stuff of Orvis, L.L. Bean, and Patagonia catalogs.
Moreover, Frazier links the time-is-no-object aspect of fishing to boyhood reverie, to endless days spent in mud and brambles and marshes. What middle-aged heterosexual white guy wouldn't want to reconnect to that? (Especially when it offers the chance to obsess over fishing arcana and spend vast sums on gear and guides, as Eye makes clear.) "If a city or town has shoreline but no fishing of any kind, something's wrong," Frazier declares. In this way, he locates redemptive waterways coursing past skyscrapers and strip malls alike.
by Jane DeLynn (MIT Press, $12.95) Wild Rose, 1021 E. Pike, 271-5437, 8 p.m. Thurs., May 2; Bailey/Coy Books, 414 E. Broadway, 323-8842, 7 p.m. Wed., May 8
CHRONICLING the existential crisis of a middle-aged lesbian whose girlfriend's away, Jane DeLynn's novel Leash starts with the unnamed narrator placing a personal ad in The Village Voice informing that she's "a jaded creative type anxious to please." An ensuing rapport begins with an anonymous woman, who, at the first rendezvous, leaves a blindfold along with a note ordering that this item be worn at all times. She then proceeds to spank and anally torture our narrator, who, breathless, sexually sated for the first time, and desiring further sexual adventure, adopts the alias "Chris." The encounters become more frequent, and Chris becomes increasingly dependent on her dominatrix, while the masochism inflicted on her grows increasingly repugnant: Chris has sex with her dominatrix's dog, Chris complies to putting on a dog suit and living in a kennel with the aforementioned canine, Chris is fed laxatives and then walked through the park in her dog suit, Chris is gang-banged in a dog orgy, etc. The book climaxes with Chris renouncing her humanity and entering as a dog in the custody of the "society of the leash," a group of women "masters" who covertly keep large kennels containing humans.
Chris is wooed into the society by the promise that her entrance "absolves (her) forever from the curse of humanhood," but at no point does DeLynn succeed in making Chris sound like she's cursed by human existence. Instead, Chris comes across as a bourgeois whiner, and her unconvincing devolution into a dog woman—her finding truth at rock bottom—would be silly if it weren't so disgusting. DeLynn has enough prowess as a writer to significantly nauseate her reader, and, apparently knowing this, she makes Leash into a sordid exercise in how far she can push that ability. The book is a page-turner; reading time passes the same way an hour flies by when one's fixated in horror to a TV playing a Faces of Death video. But the pretentious prose and lofty, misguided philosophy in Leash point to DeLynn thinking she's written a serious novel, not the equivalent of a script to a Max Hardcore flick.