Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Pulp Fly

I don’t know how it is in the rest of the country, but it seems like the supply of good fly fishing literature has dwindled in recent years in my neck of the woods. When I got into the sport, in the 90s, my local Barnes and Noble had a good three or four shelves worth of fishing books, most of the titles related to fly fishing. That may have been due to the efforts of Robert Redford, but even so, it’s how I became acquainted with John Gierach, Robert Traver, Nick Lyons, and Jerry Dennis. Now, though, the same store stocks the better portion of only one shelf, mostly with how-to/where-to books.

These days, I feed my need to read (about fly fishing) with a few excellent periodicals, like The Drake and The Flyfish Journal, as well as some really great blogs and e-magazines, such as This is Fly and Southern Culture on the Fly. Still, as I sit and re-read my battered copy of McGuane’s The Longest Silence, I find myself itching for new book-length publications. 

When I recently discovered Pulp Fly, an e-book of fly-fishing-related short stories and essays, I was eager, yet dubious. Why, I thought, would it only be published as an e-book if the quality of the stories was up to snuff? Then I saw that some of the contributing authors had written for some of the periodicals and blogs that I’ve come to enjoy. So I hit the appropriate buttons and downloaded volumes 1 and 2 to my Kindle.

Upon finishing both volumes, perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Pulp Fly is that these are not stories about fly fishing. The fishing serves as a motif, a thread to tie the very different pieces together. These stories are about people. They are all people who fly fish, sure, but the act of fishing is merely a stroke of characterization, which for me, serves to strengthen the pieces because I find myself connected to them through this shared passion. 

That’s where the similarities between stories ends, however. To call them varied would be an understatement, as the pieces cross multiple genres, such as crime and science fiction, with many striving toward the literary and one serialized piece that pays distinct homage to the genesis (at least in my mind) of American literary flyfishery: Hemingway’s Big Two Hearted River.

Pulp Fly bills itself as filling a niche occupied in the 20th century by pulp magazines -- inexpensive repositories of entertaining adventure and mystery stories churned out by young or upcoming writers, some of whom, like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and John D. MacDonald, would go on to publish some of the most popular and enduring stories and novels of their time. I would say that on this note, Pulp Fly succeeds in its objective, had such a niche in fly fishing literature ever existed. In any case, it does now, and I’m glad Pulp Fly is there to fill it.