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The Fisherman Paperback – June 30, 2016
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This is exactly what Langan has pulled off in The Fisherman. If things had never gone beyond one widower helping another through fishing, it still would have been a great novel. The substance of the story, Langan’s prose and his voice, the way he makes us feel the losses, would be enough to pull us happily through these pages, but so much more happens, and it gets weird in the most awesome of ways. I'm serious. You have to check this out.
So, congratulations to Mr. Langan on such an achievement. Congratulations to those who haven’t read it for adventure awaits. And, congratulations to me for finishing this review without one fishing pun.
The Fisherman is a most original and creatively crafted novel. It opens with one of the most ominous and foreboding beginnings one is likely to encounter. The story to be revealed is described “as coal-black” and the narrator questions, “Can a story haunt you? Possess you?” However, a mere couple of pages later Langan moves his readers to an incredibly realistic tale describing a man, Abe, and his attempts to deal with the sudden and premature death of his wife, Marie, to cancer. Abe’s story is one to which any reader will relate who has suffered the loss of a loved one. Abe’s bereavement is revealed in an objective, yet movingly fashion without undue sentimentality. Abe eventually finds escape in fishing the streams in the Catskill Mountains of New York. At work, a colleague, Dan Drescher, has also suffered a loss: the death of his wife and two sons in an automobile accident. Abe cautiously and hesitantly reaches out to Dan and the two begin to share a friendship and moments of relief fishing together, until the ill-fated day that Dan suggests they seek out a little-known and isolated stream called Deutschman’s Creek—Dutchman’s Creek, created by the relocation of eleven and a half towns to form the Ashokan Reservoir in 1916. Abe and Dan’s lives will never be the same.
The bulk of The Fisherman contains a narrative entitled “Der Fischer: A Tale of Terror.” It is a bizarre story told to Abe and Dan by a local by the name of Howard that chronicles the pernicious history of the area. It is also a heady stew of the ghostly and unknown, of the preternatural and incredible. For the reader it is like being given a dish one has never tasted before as the reader attempts to delineate possible ingredients. In “Der Fischer: A Tale of Terror,” as well as the novel as a whole, one can discern hints of William Hope Hodgson, Aleister Crowley, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Matthew J. Costello, Stephen King, and even Herman Melville (the latter of which is clearly evident), among others. This list, in no means, is meant to imply The Fisherman is a derived pastiche of other novels. What it does denote is The Fisherman is such an exceptional work that it stirs the imagination that will have the reader dipping into their bank of knowledge of other pieces of fiction with which they are familiar, seeking any kind of parallel to Langan’s creation.
For what is a work of horror, The Fisherman is vastly literate, at times complex and filled with numerous characters and events although Abe and Dan are meant to be the focus at both the beginning and the end of the novel. It contains surprising beauty and repugnant evil, vivid visual and sensual details, a purposefully distorted vision of ancient mythology, and an ever present feeling of dread. The setting for most of the novel, considering the related events as well as many of the proceedings themselves, borders upon the surreal. Yet, behind it all there remains a surprising foundation of humanity.
The last portion of The Fisherman focuses once again upon Abe and Dan and their terrifying, unworldly experiences at Dutchman’s Creek as Langan produces layer after layer of new dismaying fear for the main characters and the reader. Only after the novel’s climax is there a sense of relief, but it is a false one as Langan proves not to have run out of additional scares to recount.
The Fisherman is the most mindboggling of novels. Readers are likely to retain some of the book’s images in their mind long after completing the novel and feel a sense of chill engulf them anew. The Fisherman is one of those rare novels that many readers, upon finishing it, will be tempted to start reading all over again with the suspicion that the novel contains much that will have been accidentally overlooked with just one reading.
Langan’s unorthodox narrative structure, his attention to detail, the weird surrealism of the events which take place, and the mysteries that the Dutchman’s Creek hold, are some of the most effective components of storytelling that we have read all year. The Fisherman is a machine, each component equally important, working together to grind the axles, gears, and cogs to breathe life into a mechanism of haunting language and execution.
Deep within the heart of Langan’s novel, is the nature of grief and its effects on those who are the most emotionally vulnerable. What people are capable of when their reality is questioned, their fantasies realized. How grief can seep into one’s conscience, how it can transform someone, and perhaps most importantly (as we see with our protagonist Abe), how grief can be so powerful, we have to find a way to cope. A hobby, a sport, a distraction. Whatever is needed to keep sanity intact. Langan’s choice of words and his artistic rhythm keep our relationships with the main characters intimate, while also illustrating scenes of terror with a sharp and hallucinatory tongue.
The Fisherman combines Weird Fiction and Literary Horror, brewing a cocktail of unsettling imagery and a premise that invokes curiosity and intrigue. Imagine the horrors of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” bred with the mysterious surrealism of Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and you have The Fisherman, an epic piece that treads the border between literary fiction and downright hair-raising horror. The novel reads like that of a classic, while maintaining the atmosphere of weird fiction that is, by all means, unforgettable.
Langan pays homage to classics of literature, whether it be Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft and the weird tales of authors like Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Where many authors fail to individualize their inspirations from their own writing, Langan succeeds triumphantly in setting his own work apart. It wouldn’t be right to compare The Fisherman to any other work. Its amalgamation of themes and motifs stretch far beyond the genre in which it is beheld, transcendent in its own storytelling while maintaining a course for originality all the way through.
The history and depth in which Langan describes the tale that unfolds, spanning over many decades, is of an intricate and astute precision that modern authors should take notice to. A page turner if there ever was one, the reader is hooked from the opening chapter and it becomes rather impossible to put the book down. Each chapter ends alluding to a larger horror awaiting on the horizon, each section ending with newfound mystery that chains the rest of the novel together. In a climax that is both cinematic and hauntingly poetic, Langan ends The Fisherman with a paragraph that has become etched into the recesses of our minds, clinging to our thoughts, replaying again and again, each time sending new chills down our spines.
Langan is a titan. That much is certain. This novel is his champion. The stakes and expectations for House of Windows are at an all-time high, and with the beauty that is The Fisherman, we know that it won’t disappoint. The Fisherman is one of the greatest horror novels to come out in the past decade, and it will continue to hold its precedence and importance for many years to come.