“Relentlessly observant, miraculously expressive, these [stories] see through the mirrored surface into a hidden yet strangely intimate world.” New York Times Book Review
Set in a tiny Czech community on the shores of Lost Lake, these stories chronicle three generations of men and women under the spell of a landscape with a powerful history. Mark Slouka explores both the quiet glory of the natural world and the mysterious motions of the human spirit.
A New York Times Notable Book
A California Book Award Silver Medalist for Fiction
|Publisher:||Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Mark Slouka’s most recent books are the story collection All That Is Left Is All That Matters, the memoir Nobody’s Son, and the award-winning novel Brewster. His work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, and the PEN / O. Henry Prize Stories. He lives in Prague.
Read an Excerpt
He'd start out every evening just after dinner, moving the heavy wooden boat slowly east along the shoreline with a single oar he pulled out of the oarlock and moved in small, effortless circles with his left arm, locked and strong. I'd never seen a fly fisherman before. I'd watch the line loop the air in a long, tight script, the rod curved with its weight, his right arm lifting it sharp behind his head, letting it rise and stretch, then sending it out to the open spots between carpets of weed, the black pockets between deadfalls, the rectangles of shade under sagging docks.
He was old--seventy, maybe more--tall and straight, with gray hair cut close to his head and a face that always seemed to be listening to something difficult to make out but not unexpected. Everything about him--the patient set of his mouth, his eyes, the way he'd put down the oar and loop the line between the thumb and little finger of his left hand--was slow and deliberate and perfect and in such complete and incontrovertible contrast to the frenzied chaos of tangled lines and snagged lures that marked my hours on the water that I watched him as if mesmerized, sensing something special and mysterious, determined to learn whatever secret there was to know.
"Hey, mister, what're you using for bait," I'd say with the callow familiarity of youth, automatically using the generic term we had for anything tied to the end of a line. And he'd always answer the same way: "I'm not using bait, son, I'm using a lure." He'd show me a little homemade popper with a spooned-out face And dry fly hackle tied around the shank of the hook He seemed to have five or six of these and nothing else. I never saw him change lures. I never saw him fish with anything else.
It didn't matter to me that a good part of the time he didn't catch a thing. It certainly didn't seem to matter to him. On good days he'd put two fish on a simple rope stringer he'd hang from the steel brace below the oarlock. If he caught more, he'd let them go, slipping out the single hook, holding them gently upright under the water till the lactic acid wore off and the gills started to pump and they swam slowly off his hand, then flashed into the dark. He kept nothing under a foot long, nothing much bigger.
I was there the time he dropped the floating lure beside a small finger of branch sticking out over the surface. The instant it smacked down like some fat, wind-spun moth, the water beneath and around it shifted almost imperceptibly. He twitched it and the water boiled briefly and was still. I watched from thirty feet away--we had just passed. He waited, until I thought fo sure whatever it was had gone, then twitched it again and the lure disappeared in a great splash and his rod was bent deep to the water. He brought it to the boat, slowly, carefully, a great, thrashing slab of a fish that broke the water only once, wallowed heavily, then went deep. I watched him slip the hook, as he did with all the others. He held it up for my benefit.
"He's huge," I said, barely breathing.
"A good fish," he agreed. "A pretty fish." He laid it belly-down on his palm in the water. It lay fanning quietly, then swam off.
It didn't take long for me to start despising my heavy fiberglass rods and the bulky reels and the arsenal of treble-hooked lures, each in their little compartment in the tackle box I lugged on and off the boat each day like some water-bound traveling salesman. I begged a cheap fiberglass fly rod for Christmas and by May I was back, whipping at the water, flinging mad loops around my ears, wrenching at the rod to loosen the poppers I invariably sank into the branches of lakeside trees just beyond my reach ... By June I'd given up, returning to my Mitchell reel and the old familiar lures. That fall I started high school. I didn't pick up a fly rod again until after our first son was born.
He and his wife didn't come back to the lake that summer, or any other. Summer rentals were like that sometimes. It was years before I thought I understood the rough poetry of the man, the expression on his face when he looked across that small water--mildly amused, almost wry--as though to say, "It's not quite the way I planned it, not quite where I thought I'd be, but good enough, it'll do ..." and began to suspect that living appropriately sometimes requires a drawing back, a slow renunciation of much that mattered, once.