Review: Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon by Cameron Pierce (Broken River Books; 2014)

4 Jan

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“Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon”

A light surrealism permeates this tale. Pierce’s obsession is intriguing, especially if you reread his earlier works like The Ass Goblins of Ashuwitz or “The Elf Slut Sisters.” His voice feels more restrained, mature, and secure in this story, although it does border on Norman Mclean territory. This promises to be an intriguing evolution for one of the first bizarro writers I read 4-5 years ago.

“Sway”

This is a very funny story. Told from the POV of a Vietnam vet with foul, politically incorrect terminology, what begins like a cliched war story quickly becomes something entirely different and unexpected. I won’t spoil exactly how it develops, but I will say that Pierce’s twisted sense of humor surfaces in abundance so its earnest yet gruff tone is quickly undermined by Pierce’s satirical touch.

“Drop the World”

I have mixed feelings about stories told in the 2nd person, but it works well here. It drops you into the center of the action of a female boxing match. As the dreams and hopes of our protagonist spiral downward on a trail of auto-fume vapors, we encounter a surrealistic vision of the victor of the earlier boxing match intermixed with angel imagery. This one manages a downbeat ending that is still hopeful, even if that hope is smeared in rubble, debris, and delusion as the mouth in a body bag speaks.

“Short of Lundy”

This one has the structure of an imaginary encyclopedia of fantastic fish coupled with a simple story of a man and his father’s stories of fishing simple trout during his boyhood. Pierce’s whimsical imagination remains in full-display despite what the aforementioned synopsis might conjure. I particularly enjoyed the description of the last sea-monster sized fish eating cows and cranes.

“Help Me”

I read this story a few weeks ago in the anthology entitled Letters to Lovecraft. In that anthology, Pierce provides an introduction and states his love for “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” which is unsurprising given the fishy nature of its imagery and anthropomorphic concluding twist. This story seemed more complex and creepy reading it the second time through. I actually went back and read the last few pages for a third time before writing this. It seemed, on my second reading, the narrator had actually become the human-like fish that demanded help; on the third read, I noticed that the other fish remained in the car yet is referred to as “the firstborn.” This is my favorite one so far, and I’m happy I reread it. Probably the most straightforward horror tale of the collection.

“The Bass Fisherman’s Wife”

Wow. These keep getting better. There was something very elegant about the style of this one–very restrained and almost musically composed, if that makes any sense. It has a prim and proper style, like something out of Nathaniel Hawthorne yet with a decidedly Kafka-esque development. To summarize the events would do it a disservice–this one must be unveiled like a series of masterful paintings.

“Three Fishermen”

This odd trypich of tales do not fit together in any discernible puzzle or mystery, but maybe I should return to them at a later date to unlock their secrets.

“Floodland”

I loved this one. It has a slight Lost Highway feel to it while also revisiting the themes and imagery of “Help Me.” The narrator’s scene with his wife from a different life was handled well. This kind of story–with multiple planes of shifting realities–must’ve been difficult to pull off with such clarity and deceptive simplicity.

“The Incoming Tide”

Cosmic forces in tents and from the night. Missing elk by inches on slick roads after midnight. Slippery fragments, breaking but forming an arrow of energy towards a still-beating heart.

“Trophies”

A short somber tale that feels a bit like Hemingway without the drinking and contains zero fantastic elements. Still moving in its own way, like a more optimistic piece by Carver but also without the drinking.

“Let Love In”

We encounter another talking fish, although this one is fueled by bruised hallucination. In times of desperation, love can you make you do anything–even it that means trading flesh for fish at a dirty counter to hide reptilian eyes beneath the eaves.

“Easiest Kites There Are To Fly”

The title of this tales serves as a gateway to madness. Sad events lead a man to be haunted by a devil fish. Tempestuous relations with his father and wife also lead to him drinking too much and too often. The tale feels more like a fable or fairy tale than some of the others due to the whimsical feat of a man actually becoming successful, for a short stretch, selling small easy kites to fly.

“The Snakes of Boring”

This story, the longest in the collection, moved at an exceptionally fast pace due to its humor and hardboiled plot. Despite some ludicrous developments along the way, the story remained compelling–sort of like an Ealing comedy (think Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Lavender Hill Mob (I’m thinking of the imbecilic plan at the catfish farm that, of course, goes horrendously wrong). I won’t spoil other twists in the goofy but macabre plot.

“California Oregon”

This is an intense, choose-your-adventure style piece. While the form is used ironically, the emotions are harrowing and unsentimental. A very beautiful story that I will never forget.

“Our Love Will Go the Way of Salmon”

Sort of epilogue to a genuinely original collection of short stories. I read this while staying at a house on Lake Rupanco in southern Chile. Though I don’t usually fish, I did a bit while staying here. I also looked for salmon in a nearby river. Maybe someday I will again.

Get Our Love Will Go The Way of Salmon.

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