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An innovative conceit, remarkably sustained in this first novel, is comprised of the fulminations--in a formal, archaic diction--of an old angler and woodsman as he undertakes an eerie dream-journey (sloshing with piscatorial references) after the death of his wife of 53 years. That wife, called by the old man his Parmacheene Belle (""the most taking fly made of feather and belly fin. . .draws the biggest fish""), had chosen to fade away, gutted by doctors. And it's Gibble, his erstwhile mentor, wiseman, and technocrat of pollution (the name is a play on the word for the snagging tooth of a mating salmon), who is the enemy. Gibble, along with the Idiot Boy, the angler's son, would now put the old man in an institution. Convinced he's killed his son, the angler wavers forth away from his ""natural element."" (Throughout, Gibble, the Dead Wife and the Idiot shimmer in different shadings, as both external and internal voices.) The journey will take him, with a ""mermaiden"" (a ""hemp""-smoking teenaged prostitute), first to a sheltered haven in the caverns of a city--where a kind black woman and her fry take him in--and then on through other adventures to his wife's home territory, the sea. There the mermaiden (a burden to him like catfish eggs in the mouth) drowns. He'll at last return home, gaffed, with a fish bone in his throat. The old man moves through landscapes rippling like waters overhead--through the lapping and overlapping of voices that seem to boom unnaturally loud and hollow; and there's a jumble of faces and gestures that in a decaying mind seem to distort and bleed into one. A showy piece, as dense and cold in tone as winter eelgrass, but Scott is a writer of talent. Very special.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1987
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin