Americans love to hear good fish stories. We expect the angler to exaggerate his skills, along with the almost insurmountable weather conditions and, most importantly, the size of the elusive finned beast. Romantic notions of the great outdoors and philosophical ruminations must also be included in the tale, because as any weekend warrior will admit fishing is a sport of chance, and the odds do not favor the human species.
Ian Frazier expertly follows the above narrative recipe in The Fish's Eye, and the result is a delicious concoction of humorous, often self-deprecating essays that cover more than 20 years of chasing the Big One. Frazier, author of On the Rez, hauls his pole and tackle box to a few unlikely fishing holes for some unusual observations. There is New York City's Harlem Meer, for instance, where even the most amateur handler of bait can catch key rings, plastic globes and the arm of a doll. While fishing in the urban riparian areas of the East Coast for striped bass a fish that can top the scales at 60 pounds or more Frazier makes perhaps the only striper-New Yorker comparison in modern literature. Coming from his expert pen, this could be the start of an entirely new canon. "Striped bass are in many respects the perfect New York fish," he writes. "They go well with the look of downtown. They are, for starters, pinstriped; the lines along their sides are black fading to light cobalt blue at the edges. The dime-size silver scales look newly minted, and there is an urban glint to the eye and a mobility to the wide predator jaw. If they could talk, they would talk fast." Many bait and bullet publications proffer advice on how to survive a blizzard with only a postage stamp and a fountain pen. "I wish I had down-to-earth wisdom like that to impart," Frazier says, "but when I search my knowledge, all that comes to mind is advice that would cause me to run and hide after I gave it." He is too modest. Through these easy-flowing essays, Frazier shows us that all the wisdom we will ever need to know is within a short walk of the nearest river. Stephen J. Lyons writes from Monticello, Illinois.