Friday, July 26, 2013

Daniel Wallace, Big Fish (1998)

Wallace, Daniel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, Pandher Books, 1998
_____________, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, Algonquin Books, 2012 (pictured)

Rating: 5/10

Big Fish at Goodreads
Big Fish at IBList

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With its minimal plotting and abundance of anecdote, Big Fish reads more like an extended character sketch than a full-fledged novel, in which narrator's father Edward Bloom overshadows every other aspect of the book, including the narrator himself. While character sketches can be rewarding, narrator William is so removed from the narrative, there only to tell us how absent his father was and simultaneously how much he loved him, that a novel about story-telling fails to produce a good story-teller.

Ironically, the narrator is presenting us with an absent father, while as a reader I found myself flipping through pages of an absent narrator, a voice informing me of his presence and surface identity, but otherwise removing himself from the narrative. While I enjoyed some of the anecdotes and found some of the situations interesting, I was unable to immerse myself in the overarching story-line. The narrator appears unsure as to how to present much of his material, either through his own semi-defined voice or in awkward attempts to usurp the voice of his masterful story-teller father.

The subtitle "A Novel of Mythic Proportions" is appropriate, since many of the stories are borrowed from myth. There are elements of Odysseus and Heracles interspersed, with both tremendous voyage and insurmountable task applied to various Bloom adventures. Bloom is driven by a seemingly higher purpose though it might not be the Olympian rulers. Rather than any god he is driven by a selfish and often childlike need to possess or to experience, to live under his own terms. A difficult character to like, and while I did not dislike him I was often left indifferent. I can admire Odysseus for his cunning, perseverance and pure love of Penelope; I can admire Heracles for his boundless feats and victories (though not for the rape). I cannot admire Bloom, though a unique eccentric, for his inverted existence and neglect of those around him, including those characters in his mythology, such as the abandoned swamp woman Jenny Hill.

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