Don Davis is a writer/editor from Chicago. We met recently at our college reunion.
I finished Stripah on the plane back to Chicago and I really liked it. Even Cuzzin's vroom-vroom came to feel right as the book went on. It was like an in joke. Apart from one line (I'll come back to that later), I found the writing delightful and insightful. I don't fly fish, but it made me want to. The interweaving of the satisfaction of connecting with nature, the reality of environmental degradation, and midlife crisis came together beautifully.
In general, it struck me as a kind of Sideways Goes To Boston, except here the two main male characters have made some progress toward becoming adults. I think you should work on a screenplay. Then get Jeff Bridges to play Artie and John Goodman for Cuzzin and you'll have a hit.
A bit of constructive criticism: I like the fast pace of the book. It made it an enjoyable read. More character development could slow that down, unless it's done really well. Still, I thought only Artie and Cuzzin were fully drawn characters. You might consider sketching in a bit more about Liam, Shea and Elaine.
I also thought the treatment of Native American activism was a bit cynical. There may be a Joe or two out there, but the movement for Native American rights is made up overwhelmingly of working people who are taking risks even just picketing, much less speaking publicly. I thought your treatment of the Indians' part in the history of Indian Mound was fine, but the presentation of the modern-day movement seemed like a bit of a cheap shot.
Along those lines, I wondered about the significance of Joe deciding to keep the fish. Was that meant to suggest that he was less pure and more materialistic than Artie? I came away with that feeling. And it reinforced the notion that you were taking a cheap shot at the struggle for Native American rights.
And now for the line, really just a phrase, which I found jarring. It was the one about Liam learning everything he needed to know about the job at the donut factory in 15 minutes. Having devoted about half of my post-Yale life to doing political work among industrial workers, I worked for eight-plus years in factories, steel mills and meatpacking plants. I never had a job you could learn in 15 minutes.
I tried to think of the easiest industrial job I ever had. It was standing at the end of a conveyor belt, stacking cartons that came down the belt onto a pallet. Even this took a while to learn properly. Depending on the size of the box the pattern in which you stacked the cartons changed. You had to learn what to do if the forklift driver who is supposed to move a full pallet doesn't show up; what to do with the boxes that don't make up a full pallet at the end of a run; how to fix the various belts and gluing mechanisms on the conveyor belt. And then there's always stuff not directly related to the job, like how to get or avoid overtime, which guys will watch your back and which ones can't wait to snitch on you to the foreman, whether to change at home or in the locker room, and so on. That one phrase made you seem like an "effete snob" as Spiro Agnew liked to call his liberal opponents. That wasn't at all the impression I had through the rest of the book.
All in all, an impressive effort. I wish you best of luck, and I will figure out some way to help get out the word. I was also interested in reading the blurb at the end about the Public Press. You make a great point that the publishing world has become corporate and homogeneous and that the technology now exists more than ever before for artist to speak directly to audience. I applaud your efforts to do that yourself, and to give others the same opportunity.
I'm glad we had a chance to meet this weekend. Best of luck.