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Five Stars for STRIPAH!

A Real Fish Story

This is a wonderful review, written by one of Vermont's best writers, Helen Husher. Helen's book Conversations with a Prince (The Lyons Press) is just out and does for horses what I tried to do for fish. Only she does it so much better.

-- SM

Stripah Love is a real fish story, in that it's partly about failure, partly about success, and all about yearning for things below the surface that can't quite be seen. One of those, as the title implies, is a legal thirty-inch striper—pronounced "stripah" in the patois that is still current in the working-class neighborhoods around Boston. But I hasten to add that this is not really a fishing book. It is mostly a funny book, a comedy of time and manners and middle age, yet with a hot pace that keeps the pages turning.

The story begins with a show-biz explosion—Arthur Gordon, a successful movie director, gives birth to a film so politically incorrect and inflammatory that he is an overnight object of universal hatred—he is even interviewed (and skewered) on "60 Minutes." His wife has left him, his mother has died, and none of the moving parts in his life have coherency. So Artie does what we all want to do—he goes home, back to a family summer cottage on an island in Boston Harbor. But Artie is not a wound licker or a navel-examiner. He has things to do—make the leaky, dirty, critter-infested cottage habitable, reconnect with his equally deteriorated cousin (who is everyone's doubtful cousin and is aptly named Cuzzin), and come to terms with a testy, herb-tea-sipping neighbor, who wants all things in her vicinity to be organic and serene. Artie accommodates her by banging on the piano and pouring chemicals on the shaggy perennials; worse, he rents a power paint sprayer and turns everything that isn't moving white, including most of the lawn. His rushed ineptitude is so rife that Artie and his son Liam call themselves the Nucking Fuff Construction Company; as they dribble paint and put on the screen doors upside down, they work on the radio spots for this unhinged enterprise:

"Tired of high construction costs? Sick of quality craftsmanship? Here at Nucking Fuff Construction, we promise that your job, no matter how big or how small, will be completed in one day.

"We know what the competition says. 'Nucking Fuff has no standards.' Here at Nucking Fuff we do have standards. For instance, it's okay to paint over cobwebs and insects, but not over mammals. When painting around a rug, always try to overlap just a little bit, so it looks like you've painted the entire floor.

"We're Nucking Fuff, where pretty close is close-e-fucking enough."

Added to this is a Hollywood girlfriend who visits only to whine and berate, a media-savvy Wampanoag tribal leader who makes land claims, and the mysterious presence and absence of Sandy Beach, a pseudonym for a newspaper columnist who ought to be dead by keeps turning in the copy. It's fun, but it sure does look like chaos.

All is not lost though, since Artie finds that he can turn his desperate but curiously focused attention to the world of fish, and in particular the striper, which he stalks on the changing tides with a fly rod and a kind of redemptive joy. Artie may not get why his movie bombed or why every feminist in America hates him, but he does get this—the awareness of another, underwater world, and the poetry of the thin filament that can sometimes connect them. Walking the mud flats, tiptoeing along the stone jetties, Artie reframes his life by ignoring it—or, more accurately, by refusing to let disaster dictate it—and in this, Morris captures the single-mindedness of an angler alone on the beach. The fisherman can have many thoughts, but they all have to rotate sinuously around one ambition: Catch a fish. Which he does, eventually, but the important thing he captures is his lost composure.

This book is rollicking and funny—at times laugh-out-loud funny—but it's more than just a bundle of poor-slob merriment, since it also captures the magical, loose-limbed life of a bygone summer colony, the losses that come with paved roads and televisions, and even some pretty darn good recipes. The ending, which I will not reveal except to say that it is happy, is poised and complex and blessed with surprises that come in different sizes—delicate, obvious, silly, and purely literary and very pleasing.

-- Helen Husher
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    It Lifted Me Up
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»  Five Stars for STRIPAH!
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    The Perfect Book for Summer
    Stripah Love is a Great Ride
    Central Casting Calling
    A Brutally Honest Critique
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