Book Review: Brook Trout and the Writing Life, Craig Nova

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Brook Trout and the Writing Life
The Intermingling of Fishing and Writing in a Novelist’s Life
By Craig Nova
Foreword by Ann Beattie
Eno Publishers 1999, 2011

Originally published in 1999 this version of Brook Trout and the Writing Life The intermingling of fishing and writing in a novelist’s life is newly expanded, though it is still a fairly slim volume at 145 pages. Brook Trout is writer and fly fisher Craig Nova’s memoir and to be absolutely truthful I had some trepidation about this book based on the title. Fly fishing writers can sometimes be guilty of imbuing the act of fly fishing with too much meaning, meaning that really doesn’t exist. Every part of the fishing act becomes a metaphor. This kind of writing can work, but often it becomes too heavy handed and forced for my taste. Mr. Nova avoids that trap with ease and grace. In Nova’s own words from the preface:

Of course, this book was never really about fishing. I meant it to be about people I cared for and about the passage of time.

And so it is. The act of fly fishing and it’s quarry the trout are a sort of mnemonic device that allow Nova to reach back through time and locate the memories that he wants to share. Fly fishing is not shoe horned and bullied into meanings. Instead the fly fishing stories in the book act more like the lepidopterist’s pins, piercing and holding a life-long collection of otherwise fleeting memories. For instance the story of his first brook trout is used as a backdrop for the story of how he met his future wife. The memory of his early romance is intermingled beautifully and naturally with the fishing. While reading I was often left with the feeling that I discovered something hidden and maybe even natural, native and organic. But I’m sure it is all very carefully crafted writing, extremely subtle and rewarding, such as in this passage:

One Saturday morning I got up early and went out with the fly rod. It was foggy when I got to the wood road, and when I came to the seep, the mist in the woods was filled with slanting rays of light as you might see in a dusty room, the lines defined by the long streaks of shadows made by the spruce and hemlock that grew on the steep sides of the hill. I followed the rill. In the mist, which was a little cool, and in that light, which came in as through a cathedral window, I thought of the warmth of the space under the blanket where Christina was sleeping.

In those days, I really didn’t know what I was doing in the fishing department, but at least I had some notion of the theoretical aspects of catching fish on a fly.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Craig Nova’s writing is peaceful and graceful, never heavy-handed. It is like a peaceful day alone on the the stream, winding along casting, picking up a fish here and there. Just as fly fishing is for him, the author has created a book that is a respite, a place to be quietly lost for a while. This book is first a personal memoir and second a book about fly fishing. But there is plenty for the fly fisherman to enjoy in its pages.

4 Comments on Book Review: Brook Trout and the Writing Life, Craig Nova

  1. I will have to read this one…thanks for the review.

  2. .

    Anthony, I agree with your description of this book as a “respite” . . . good review!

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