BACKWATERS by Stephen Jones


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Assorted pieces prompted by a lifelong infatuation with watery places and water-going people. First, an uproarious curtain-raiser--featuring some mordantly, devastatingly funny Irish dialogue--about the water rising in everybody's basement. (Jones has edited a Flann O'Brien anthology as well as writing on boats and boatmen.) Then, some quicksilver childhood reminiscences of water--of the ""underground river"" miraculously under a grating, of a homemade dam and threats of drowning: ""That night we all went to bed face down, arms and legs spread, fingers slightly cupped, eyes bloated."" And then, alas, shallows and ripples. Long, slack yarns with pinpricks of irony (""A Deep-Water Man,"" ""The Last Day of the Swordfish""); family anecdotes, rueful and affectionate but also overextended (""The First Good Day,"" ""The Old Widow-Maker""); a couple of sturdy stop-time vignettes--""Trout Fishing as a Spectator Sport"" and an encounter with a praying mantis ""In the Garden Alone""; a sometimes searing--but again run-on--account of a ""whale funeral."" Our favorites are a bemused report of a dead-serious ""Rowing Workshop""--a convocation of ""funky boats"" and ""furniture boats"" and their mutually suspicious owners at Mystic, Conn.--that, unfortunately, will be half-lost on the uninitiated (unlike John McPhee, Jones doesn't explicate his enthusiasms); and a down-home epic, ""Helen,"" about the passing of two strong men and the survival of an old, unlovely boat. ""When you're on a boat,"" Jones' father once says, you don't need to go anywhere; ""you're there."" And much the same might be said of this collection as a whole. But for others than ardent boatmen, the slow drift and prevailing indirection will be deterrents--though Jones, who seldom writes an uninteresting, uncharged line, could easily graduate from the specialty market if he wrote less about more.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1979
Publisher: Norton