In a debut nonfiction collection of personal stories, a Nova Scotian physician and sport fisherman recalls his days on the river and reflects on the lure of angling.
Atlantic Canada’s river systems have long inspired literary authors. David Adams Richards wrote about the Miramichi in Lines on the Water (1998), for example, and Hugh MacLennan wrote Seven Rivers of Canada (1961). Roy continues this tradition with 26 essays and short stories rife with fishing lore and literary references. Born in Cape Breton in 1923, Roy studied medicine and specialized in cardiology. Through a long professional career, he spent many days, even weeks, on the river, tying flies, netting fish and taking copious notes. Essays born of time spent “out-of-doors,” as Roy says, reveal sensibilities common to writers and fishers, such as the composure to sit for many fruitless hours and the fastidiousness to knot deer hair and record dinner menus. Indeed, Roy offers countless details of his early fishing trips throughout the region: routes traveled, bait used, fish caught, natural history—and, yes, daily meals. These recollections maintain a 1940s and ’50s tone which, for some readers, may seem overly quaint or simply outdated. The phrase “A lot of baloney,” for instance, sits alongside “Micmac Indian,” an erroneous term, now considered disparaging. In one of several dreamlike, fictional pieces, salmon discuss threats to their survival, including dams, aquaculture, acid rain, and “Indians” who are “more stupid than the white man in matters pertaining to our preservation.” That said, Roy writes clearly, at times beautifully, of his awe before the river and his respect for the Atlantic salmon. Among quotations from Henry David Thoreau and Rudyard Kipling, he meditates on the soul, contemplates the mayfly’s brief existence and decries current declines in fish stocks. Readers may sense a turbulent undertow in this calm physician/fisherman. But although Roy doesn’t lack feeling, his more egregious anachronisms may be jarring. For example, in “Gender and Fishing,” Roy acknowledges his “atavistic” unease when “a member of the fairer sex” joins him on the riverbank.
Informative, if somewhat fusty, musings on rivers and fishing which may interest literary sportsmen—and sportswomen.