Book Review: Holding Lies by John Larison

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Holding Lies: A Novel

by John Larison
Skyhorse Publishing, 2011

Holding Lies is the new novel from John Larison. Larison has written another well recieved novel, Northwest of Normal and a how-to book, The Complete Steelheader: Successful Fly-fishing Tactics.

According to the dust jacket, Holding Lies is a mystery. Classifying this book as a mystery, does not do it justice in my opinion. Sure, there has been a death, presumably a murder of steelhead guide Justin Morell, and the perpetrator is unknown. But this death and its investigation are not the real story, only a backdrop. I bring this up, because if you’re looking for a true mystery novel, one where the main character tracks down clues, follows leads and solves the mystery, then this is not the book for you. However, if you are looking for a literate novel that explores the relationships between parents and children, men and women, new-comers and old-timers, river and fish, guide and client, the new style flyfisher and the old-school, use and conservation, all set against the backdrop of steelheading in the Northwest, then this book will fit the bill.

In addition to being a published steelheading author, Larison is a former fishing guide – and it shows. Larison’s intimacy with the technical details of steelheading and guiding shines throughout this novel. In addition, well-rendered, specific locational and historical details about the Ipsyniho River (albeit a fictional river) and its surroundings, serve to paint a fully realized environment and a legitimate sense of place.

“They’re on the far-side seam,” Hank answered. “You can make the cast. Sweep deeper into the D-loop, and come over the top. Let the rod do the work.”

The fish always chose that ledge over the run’s other holding lies. The migration route up the river, the fish’s path of least resistance, delivered them right to its protective lee. In the early years, or his early years, the late sixties, before the headwaters were logged, the tributaries damned, the hatchery built, fish would be scattered all through this run they called Governor. The biggest fish would often sit on that ledge, the smaller ones dispersing to other lies in the pool. He’d even caught them in the knee-deep bucket on the other side, before silt from the new road filled it in. Back then forty thousand native steelhead spawned in the watershed…These days the young guides were relieved when eight thousand natives returned.

With setting well-staged, Larison, brings us a believable leading man, Hank Hazelton. Hank is a 59 year old steelhead guide on the fictional Ipsyniho River in Oregon. He is a man poised. Poised between the old guard and the new, between the river and the users, between freedom and the need for relationships. At the beginning of the book we find Hank anxiously awaiting the arrival of his estranged daughter Annie. As Hank is forced to explore and reevaluate his relationship with his daughter, he also finds himself reevaluating his relationship to the Ipsyniho, it’s environment and its denizens. And it is in these relationships that the real story lies. On the surface of Holding Lies, we watch as Hank struggles to find a way to reinvent his relationship to his daughter. But just below the surface we see the struggle of our modern world trying to reinvent a relationship to the natural world. Larison does this in an artful way and Holding Lies makes for a thoughtful, compelling read, pick it up and see for yourself.

A few additional excerpts:

They Found their first steelhead in the fifth run, a wild six-pounder that rose to Hank’s dry fly five times before finding the hook. He brought it quickly to the shallows and unpinned it, and Annie hovered over his shoulder as he let it go. Even now forty-five years after landing first one, the experience brought a rushing sense of euphoria: an intoxicating cocktail of gratitude, hope, and faith rewarded – and the indelible reality of one little resolution in this world so dead-set against them.

And for a moment, anything was possible. “I love you Annie.”

“What is it about steelhead?” she asked, maybe without hearing him. She had asked this question before, her first day after arriving.

“They’re the sun,” he said. “Everything in this valley orbits them. Always has.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. There must be something,” she continued, “something about them that made this life of yours – of Caroline’s and Danny’s and everybody else’s around here – orbit them, as you say.”

Hank rinsed the slime from his hands. “The river is washing the land’s nutrients downstream to the ocean; steelhead and other anadromous fish are the vehicle that returns those nutrients to the headwaters. Without them, the land withers and eventually dies.”

She considered this, staring at the passing water, so calm here compared to above. “But why are drawn to them? I get they play some important role in the watershed. That makes sense, but so do trees and I don’t see you climbing a big fir tree every morning.” She wasn’t hiding the bite of these questions.

It wasn’t like this great error of his life had occurred in the capsule of a single moment, some apex scene where the bright sun disappears over the dark horizon and that’s it. His great error was in fact a million little errors that had assembled slowly and imperceptibly, accumulating like a glacier’s ice pack and measured like one too: not in days or even years, but in decades. What was life but a disorienting progression of fragmented ambiguities that resisted any attempts at ordering – until viewed through the fictionalizing lens of hindsight? Then, and only then, could sense be made of it. And by then, what was the point? Nothing could be amended.

Life wasn’t like a river, no matter how many stupid pop songs said that it was. A river could be known, its channel could be learned, so that even on the foggiest predawn morning, a person could ick the right line, one move at at ime. No metaphor could capture or illuminate life’s chaotic unknowns, its swift determinism, its painful irrevocability. No, life was a precarious balancing act between enjoying the time yuo had left and surviving the mistakes you couldn’t quite identify. Of this much, hank was sure./p>

4 Comments on Book Review: Holding Lies by John Larison

  1. Nice review, Anthony. I’m intrigued to read this now.

  2. Hey Anthony, just came across this excellent book review…by you! Very well done! Happy Holidays and hope you are doing well. I am putting this book on my ‘what can we possibly find for Dad’ list.

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