The Fisherman

November 22, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

fishermanThe Fisherman by John Langan

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You know my quest for “good horror”? Here it is. Otherworldly, strange, unsettling, and disquieting: this novel has it all. That it also has a bit of a literary bend to it (there are multiple allusions to Moby Dick here) is just gravy, because this is the kind of story that can induce nightmares.

The story is about Abe (“Don’t call me Abraham”), a man who has lost his young wife to cancer. As part of his grieving process, he takes up fishing. The solitude and challenge of it appeals to him, and when a co-worker of his, Dan, loses his wife and two children to a car accident, Abe discovers Dan used to fish, and invites him along.

It doesn’t sound like much, but like any fisherman, there are some stories involved. The key story of The Fisherman is told to them by Howard, who runs a diner the two fishermen frequent on the way to their fishing spots. Howard begins, “Understand, I can’t vouch for any of this”, and from there we hear the real story.

The odd thing about the book is that Howard’s story doesn’t begin until we’re twenty percent of the way into the story. That’s my biggest complaint of the book. Over half of it is Howard’s story, it’s dropped into the very middle of the story, and it’s all backdrop for the story of Abe and Dan. It’s important, yes, (without it, Abe’s and Dan’s stories are less resonant), but it’s stuck into the story like a splinter in flesh. Plus, it’s written as Abe’s recollection of Howard’s story, told in Howard’s voice, so it’s an odd mishmash of events, told in the present tense even though it’s a flashback. Plus, Howard seems to know a lot about what other people were thinking, which is unusual. The structure of the story is clunky, and the characters in Howard’s story aren’t drawn as well as those outside of it. As a result, I found myself bored with Howard’s story, and I struggled to make it through so I could get back to Abe and Dan.

Furthermore, Langan writes clunky sentences, like “The tree stump Jacob’s fifty feet away from meeting bursts”, or “What I’d been too concerned with bringing the thing in to realize was”, or “I was sorry I’d pushed off as much of caring for the boys onto her as I had.” These are just a few; I noticed many, but as I saw them recurring so often, I started to jot down some examples. They stopped me cold, and though part of me wondered if this were another way Langan was keeping me off my guard, to make reading the story as unsettling as the imagery, I couldn’t help but feel like he was creating barriers for understanding.

Despite all those concerns, I still rate this four stars, because how it all comes together works so damned well. Langan touches on Lovecraftian horrors of the cosmic unknown, but makes them personal, as well. His imagery is disturbing without being graphic, and his characterization (at least in the outer story) is spot-on. It’s weird horror at its finest, which is good or bad, depending on your tastes. As one of the characters in Howard’s story says multiple times, “This is bad business”, but for fans of horror, that’s a wonderful thing.

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