"Lost fish," writes Howell Raines, "chasten us to the knowledge that we are all, in each and every moment, dwindling. Imagine my surprise when I discovered well into my sixth decade that losing fish can prepare us for a blessing as well as for pain."
Confronting loss -- of an elusive fish or something larger -- is at the heart of The One That Got Away, the graceful sequel to Raines's much-loved, bestselling memoir Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, published to great acclaim in 1993. With the same winning combination of reminiscences, anecdotes, philosophy and fishing lore, his bold new memoir covers the eventful years in this latest passage of his life, and the realization that in relinquishing his former identity as a newspaperman he has actually gotten what he wanted, just in the most unlikely way.
In wry and witty prose, Raines shifts between fishing vignettes and personal reflections on his childhood, his second marriage, his relationships with his two sons, the trajectory of his career at The New York Times and his move toward old age. At the center of his narrative is his most thrilling fishing adventure -- an epic battle with a marlin he hooked and fought for more than seven hours in the South Pacific -- which comes to symbolize his growing understanding and acceptance of the unpredictability of luck, love, lies and life, and how the unexpected can, in fact, be an opportunity to make life more interesting.
Raines's wonderful descriptions of streams, people and fish; his passion for angling and writing; and his wise and perceptive commentary on the vagaries of his own life combine to create a profound book -- one of undeniable appeal and uncommon heart.
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May 01, 2006
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Excerpt from The One that Got Away by Howell Raines
In a century of fly fishing, one thing has not changed. "It is our lost fish that I believe stay longest in memory, and seize upon our thoughts whenever we look back on fishing days." A paradigmatic Victorian gentleman, Lord Grey of Fallodon, published those words in a book called Fly Fishing in 1899. Over one hundred years later, there is still nothing as gone, as utterly lost to us, nothing as definitely absent and irretrievable as a lost fish.
"Seize our thoughts" is an apt phrase, for there are some lost fish that haunt us like old love. They live forever in what Izaak Walton called "the boxes of memory." Yet not all lost fish are equal. Sometimes there is a soothing completeness to the loss of a specific fish. The encounter has an accommodating narrative arc -- a beginning, a middle and a conclusion, at which, for some reason, one does not feel robbed. These flashes of enlightenment are rare and a blessing when they come. But fishing in the main does not allow for such an absence of Avarice, such a deliverance from Desire and its handmaiden Regret. That is because, once a fish is on our line, we don't want the imperial feeling of possession ever to end.
The governing emotion of fishing therefore is not one of attainment but one of anxiety about incipient loss. Every moment that a fish is on the line, we dread the sensation of being disconnected against our will, of being evaded, escaped from, of grabbing and missing. Every fish that slips the hook instructs us in the surgical indifference of fate. For like fate, a fish only seems to be acting against us. It is, in fact, ignorant of us, profoundly indifferent, incapable of being moved by our desires, by our joy or sorrow. We regard the moment when the fish rises to a fly as a triumph of piscatorial artistry, and when the line breaks or the hook pulls out, we feel cheated, outfoxed, chagrined. We take it personally. But to the fish, such an encounter is simply an interruption, unremarkable and unremembered, in the instinctual, self-absorbed journey of fulfilling its fishhood. What we experience as an exercise of will and hope, the fish encounters as an accident, no more or less remarkable than meeting a shrimp.