This second edition of Stripah is bettah.
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Arthur Gordon doesn't get it. After a string of successful films his latest opus is reviled as sexist and politically incorrect. Emotionally wounded, he retreats to the sanctity of a summer cottage where carefree recollections buffer him from his self-inflicted firestorm. Only after running headlong into the realities of changing times does he decide that redemption will be his only if he can catch a big fish on a little feather.

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In which our hero (Artie) has achieved success, but then it's withdrawn from him summarily, arbitrarily, and unfairly. The lady of our tale, Shea, has achieved success, only to find that it exists in close proximity to the law of the jungle. Cuzzin, who never bothered, is much closer to being happy with his place in life than the others.

The process of becoming whole, for Artie, calls for him to re-establish connection with his culture through his tumbledown shack and with nature by getting a fish to chomp on his artificial feathers. Only when he gives himself entirely to this pursuit does obscene success, in the form of wealth, find him. He uses it wisely by enabling his cousin to pursue his dream. And love finds them all, just like in Shakespeare where each Jack has his Jill (and nought shall go ill).

Set within this story is confrontation of the tribal and the dominator cultures. In this instance, the tribal (the Injuns) has checkmated the dominator by adopting their own manipulative, and threatening, tactics. It's the only way a tribal culture can avoid being devoured by the dominator.

Stripah Love

by Stephen Hunter Morris

Listen to the grease, lads. She'll tell ya everything. She'll tell ya when to bring the basket up, when to give it a final shake, when the onion rings are turnin' the color of sand, when the scallops are gettin' tough, and when it's time to bang the haddock onto the rack.

She'll tell ya if the clams have grit, or if the batter's too cold. Listen closely and she'll tell ya if ya should be frying foods for a living or joinin' the service. She'll tell ya if the girl you've got your eye on will end up lookin' like her mother, or if your old Dad is right about anything a'tall.

Listen up, lads. The grease holds the secrets, and she'll give 'em up if you treat her right.

-- Seamus "Bull" Gordon, 1961

Five Stars for STRIPAH!

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

Stripah Love

by Stephen Hunter Morris

Sometimes he who hesitates is found, and so it was with Artie. The aluminum screen door of the bait shop flew open with a bang, and a man with shoulder-length gray hair, with a blue bandana around his forehead charged out carrying a sign "We Got Sea Worms!!" He wore a well-tattered flannel shirt that was unbuttoned, freeing his ample beer gut to greet the Spring. The sleeves of the shirt had been torn off, and his arms were covered in faded tattoos. His beard, or more precisely the gray hair that grew from his face, was long and undisciplined. There was not even a hint of red hair.

The Stripah King Speaks

Jack Gartside is one of the most interesting people in the world. For many years a Boston cabbie, he is now a professional fisherman and without a doubt the world's greatest stripah fisherman. His writing, specifically "Fly Fishing in Boston Harbor" re-ignited my interest in fishing and provided the spark that became this book. Thank you, Jack, for your inspiration. Jack has a great website and interesting eNewsletter.

-- SM

Stripah Love

by Stephen Hunter Morris
Return to the Mound

Arthur Gordon drives over the causeway that connects "Indian Mound" to the rest of the world feeling as if it is his bruised and battered body washing up on shore. The ordeal is past, but he's not yet sure whether or not he will survive, or whether he wants to.

Indian Mound is a small spit of dry land rising from a tidal marsh in Quincy Bay, a shallow subset of Boston Harbor. This was once a tidal island, connected to the Squantum peninsula only at low tide. As he drives over the causeway, the salt air arouses Artie's earliest memories of walking to The Mound when it was accessible only by foot.

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