Beneath the Water
His name is Abraham, but call him Abe. Remind you of anything? The bells should already be ringing for Moby Dick‘s iconic “Call me Ishmael”. It’s intended because The Fisherman, by John Langan, in many ways inspires all the intricate thoughts that go along with the classic Moby Dick. The need to catch what can never be caught, or, more appropriately, to understand what could never, maybe should never be understood.
Unless you go to Dutchman’s Creek, that is.
In the first part of Langan’s The Fisherman, the general focus is on Abe, how he lost his wife to cancer, his mourning process and how fishing saved his life.
That’s how he meets Dan—a coworker whose pain is more recent than Abe’s. Being all too familiar with tragedy, Abe reaches out and soon, the two are fishing buddies. Or, perhaps more like fellow sufferers. Misery loves company, doesn’t it?
But then Dan gets wind of a way to see his family again and maybe even reunite with them.
A tale unfolds about dimensions that touch, how doorways between the two have been opened and how it can only happen in a place where the line between the dimensions is thin, can be cut into. That place is Dutchman’s Creek.
The men venture out; what awaits them is something neither of them suspect.
The Fisherman, while full of nostalgia, was still a total breath of fresh air in the world of storytelling. Beautiful and horrifying, I couldn’t recommend The Fisherman more highly.
That was the book review part.
Who wants to talk about tropes? I know I do.
The Fisherman digs deeply and perfectly into the human psyche and exploits a lot of the same harrowing human condition emotions its classic counterpart elicits. To do that, there are a lot of (loveable) tropes in play.
My first and favorite, was the name ‘Dutchman’s Creek.’ Dutchman’s creek is the name for the river that runs to the end of the world or, to another one.
It’s a portal, if you will.
But. Dutchman’s Creek. Sounds familiar, right? Especially when we’re here discussing Death?
The Flying Dutchman is a well-known ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the seas forever. In some legends, the ship acts as a ferry, taking the souls of lost seamen to their final resting place. This idea of a ferryman is one of my all time favorites because it’s so human. The ferryman can be found in ancient Greek mythology as Charon or even in Harry Potter at the end of The Half-Blood prince. We seem to equate an unpredictable journey down a river to life whisking us away towards death, and the ferryman alone knows the way to the underworld.
But, like all good businessmen, the ferryman requires pay in blood or coin to take the necessary journey.
Langan prefers blood to coin.
Another trope Langan has tapped into was what I’ve referred to before as ‘Easter eggs.’ Providing Easter eggs is something authors do, I believe, to signify a) what they’ve read and b) which books they’ve respected or adored. I call them Easter eggs because these clues are buried within the pages as eggs are in grass, but, when you find one it’s a ‘Eureka!’ moment and everything in you squirms to find out what’s inside.
Langan leaves these ‘Easter eggs’ throughout his text and, if recognized for what they are, these eggs call to mind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jacob’s Ladder and even the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales.
And grim they are.
Climb Jacob’s ladder, bring the dead back to life and cut into another world. The Fisherman is as beautiful as it is horrifying and this is an absolute must read for the lovers of horror, classics and crazy good writing.
Come fish with us.
It’s cool here, beneath the waters.