I think “powerful” is perhaps the most frequently occurring word that came to my mind as I read this fine work from a clearly masterful writer. Jim Stegner, the protagonist, is a physically powerful man, son of a logger, surfer, misfit and painter in oils. He is capable of nearly mindless violence as much as he is of near trance-like production on canvas. His emotional redemption arises from fly fishing where he is similarly likely to enter a meditative state. The losses in his life, the mistakes he has made and still makes, the turmoil within himself occasioned by seemingly random stimuli all wash away in the soothing flow of water and the hiss of the fly line, and smoothing the way for his soul’s ease is a monumental task.
The elements of this book are like the myriad of paints used by the artist to create the illusions of light, space, form and movement. Children; both from families and orphaned, men; greedy, kind, strong and driven, women; spiritual, sexual and supportive, guilt, joy, pain, regret and inspiration all come into play in the sweeping motion of this story. Assembled in an impressive display of craft by an author who clearly belongs among the modern greats, in my opinion, it all works to propel the reader through an emotionally-charged tale worthy of classic tragedies. I recommend it highly, and don’t neglect, if you have done so, to read Heller’s previous work Dog Stars. You won’t be sorry.