Kirkus Reviews QR Code
BIG FISH by Daniel Wallace

BIG FISH

By Daniel Wallace

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 1-56512-217-8
Publisher: Algonquin

An audacious, highly original debut novel, in which a son attempts to resolve the mysteries surrounding his father by re-creating the man’s life as a series of exuberant tall tales. Edward Bloom has grown wealthy running his own import/export business. Restlessly wandering the world, he has returned home to see his wife and son only at rare, unpredictable intervals. Now, however, he’s come home to die, and William is desperate to understand something of his father’s life and character before he vanishes. But his father, an incorrigible jokester, deflects all of his son’s queries with one-liners. A baffled William, waiting for the end, begins to create a series of tall tales in which his enigmatic parent is remade as a paradigmatic American folk hero. Growing up in Alabama as a “strong quiet boy, with a mind of his own,” this mythic version of Edward has an affinity with wild animals and the uncanny. He reads every book in town, tames a lonely giant who has taken to eating the locals— crops and dogs, and hitches a ride on a giant catfish. As a young man he saves a child from an unearthly dog, rescues a lovely water spirit, and returns an enchanted eye to its rightful owner. As a wealthy older man he preserves a small southern town from the rancorous present by becoming its feudal lord. William narrates these stories in a language that nicely mixes the simplicity and tang of the folk tale with a droll, knowing sense of humor. All the episodes seem infused with a defiant, despairing love; in the end, the dying Edward outwits death by transforming himself into (literally) a “big fish,” which his son returns to its ancestral waters. More a series of ingenious sketches than a cohesive novel, but, still, a vigorous updating of the purely American genre of the tall tale—as well as an imaginative, and moving, record of a son’s love for a charming, unknowable father. (Author tour)