Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rivers of Memory and Streams of Schlock...

                            
                               “You know (in supercilious tone), Nietzsche says "From chaos, comes order.”’

                               “Ah, blow it out yer ass, Howard.”

                                                                         From a great scene in a great movie...

And if you’ve read the blog long enough, you know that pretty much sums up how I feel about the majority of flyfishing writing. Insufferably pedantic, overheated, self-important, metaphor-choked twaddle that cranks the gratuitously pensive prose knob to eleven until our brains - unable to take any more - just say fuck it and go all Scanners on us. It's the Vogon poetry of the outdoors literary scene: excruciating to the ear, the tongue and the brain.

Don't believe me? Spend a few hours in the sports section of your local Barnes & Noble (can't very well do it with Borders any more, can we?) perusing the flyfishing titles. I promise you'll end up carrying your exploded noggin home in your favorite literary figure tote bag...

Which makes it such a damn mystery why I continue to love Harry Middleton, who, it could easily be argued, is the very embodiment of all that I loathe about the genre. Prose? Here is an honest-to-gawd random passage from the Middleton book I'm currently reading. I promise you I did not cherry-pick this; I just opened a random  page without looking and placed my finger on a random spot, again, without looking...

"The only break in the day's otherwise olamic tincture of grays was the luteous glow of my room's single 40-watt desk lamp. It had been like that for three days, the island enveloped in a thick, merciless composition of grays: griseous dawns, cinereous afternoons, dismal dingy gray evenings. I imagined that even the wind and the sounds of the sea were some shade of gray, perhaps an oyster-gray mist rising off the pounding lead gray sea."

You know, it must have been a real bitch to play Scrabble against him...

I mentioned this propensity for wordiness when I blogged about "The Bright Country" last year...

As much as I liked it, though, I did have some quibbling little issues with “The Bright Country.” One, it’s pretty obvious the book is at least semi-fictionalized. Middleton described it as “more real than imagined” but many, if not most of the characters, settings, events and dialogue were simply too perfect to the story to be real. Second, Middleton was an incredibly wordy writer. I’ve got a pretty good vocabulary, but some of his words were simply lost on me, to the point where they began distracting a bit from the story.

But I guess the difference between Middleton and many of the others, and the reason I tolerate his excessive wordiness, his bottomless bag of adjectives and his feathering of fact and fiction, is because the pain and the raw emotion he puts (or rather put, since he's dead...) down on the page isn't the droning, affected naval-gazing gibberish of all the single-malted Compleat Morons out there who somehow, inexplicably, scored a book deal. It's real. Long-winded, perhaps, but real nonetheless.

When Middleton writes about depression and pain and longing, about losing everything and having to climb on the back of a garbage truck every night to go to work, about how the wind and the splatter of rain sometimes reminds him of wild rivers he can no longer fish, well, I can relate to that, I can feel that.

But a book-length exploration of your boring-ass upper middle-class twit existential crisis set on a river, or perhaps a formulaically contemplative recounting of your worldwide flyfishing adventures and what it all means in the cosmic sense? Not so much. I'll just stick with the hard-luck hardscrabble angst and leave the rest of that high-falutin' shit to the "Fifty Places" crowd.

Which brings me to the original point of the blog...



I recently picked up a copy of "Rivers of Memory" which was published in 1993, the year of Middleton's death. It's a little book, eight essays, barely a hundred pages long and long out of print. It's a highly-collectable title, I got it for a good price and as such it will go in my meager collection of decent books, but not before being read, of course. And like all of Middleton's books, it gyrates wildly between passages of forlorn darkness and sublime wonder, all in the arc of a single sentence...

Each night as I haul myself onto the back of county garbage truck number two, there is familiar wind, some shred of moonglow or starlight, a splatter of dark rain on my skin, something that stirs my memory, and again, if even for a brief moment, I am on some mountain river, some stretch of bright water, water full of possibilities, including the possibility of trout, perhaps one that, when hooked, will haul me in and out of time, in and out of life's mysterious and frightening, wondrous and incomprehensible continuum, even to the edges of the universe.

Good stuff...  

4 comments:

  1. Wow. I ream students for shoving that many adjectives in a sentence, whether they're $5 or 5¢ words. And God help them if they don't make sure they know the meanings of the words they're tossing around...

    My uncle, now a retired English teacher, once told me that he instructed his students to just strike two of every three adjectives they used before bothering to turn it in. Smart man.

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  2. A linguist's observation: I've never been flyfishing, so what do I know, but from your description it sure looks like it is a pretty sophisticated stuff that takes a sophisticated language to describe properly.

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  3. "Olamic?" "Luteous?"

    I have a fetish for obscure words, but to say that's "over the top" would be an understatement.

    One of the best pieces of writing advice I was ever given was, "Not every noun needs an adjective."

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