We find infinity, in all it’s terrifying endlessness, where it is least expected – our own hearts. We have a bottomless capacity to dive into sorrow, alas, much more frequently than joy. Grief is gravity and it can take us to unimagined and unimaginable depths. The stories of what happens to bring about grief may be prosaic and everyday, but the experience of the emotion is not so easily endured or conveyed. You may find you step a bit outside of this world.
John Langan’s The Fisherman takes us inside grief to the place that sorrow creates beyond this universe. We meet Abe, a desk jockey in a calm corporation, after the death of his wife by cancer. Langan’s journey into Abe’s world is powerful, compelling reading. Abe’s a nice guy, with a serious fishing hobby to help him compensate for the loss of his wife. Nothing can accomplish this of course, but fishing helps. When a co-worker named Dan endures an even greater loss, the two begin a tenuous, not-quite-friendship based around fishing. Their journey takes them to Dutchman’s Creek – which may or may not exist. And beyond, which, informed by their terror of life and the grief it involves, definitely and unfortunately does exist.
Langan has a low-key, hunched-over-the-table prose voice. It’s like listening to a fascinating friend. As Abe tells his tale, he swings between the reality of his shared grief and hints of what is to come. The upshot is that readers find themselves enveloped in the emotions and terrified by not just grief, but its emblems beyond this world. It’s a page-turning, powerful experience, made even richer by Langan’s canny and unique plotting. At the center of this tale is another, almost novella-length story, reflecting Abe’s story in a shattered mirror. As one leads to the other and as Abe and Dan find out just how deep Dutchman’s Creek is and where it might lead, Langan crafts a triumphant vision of cosmic horror and personal grief, deeply intertwined, inextricable.
The Fisherman is a very interesting work no matter what school of reading you hail from. Langan’s understanding of character and his finely-tuned prose might make you think you’re reading a literary novel even as the weird creeps in. The same powers of observation and composition are applied to scenes of escalating phantasmagoria. And even in the most otherworldly passages, Langan keeps us at one with the humanity of his characters. Langan’s visions of the fantastic are also reminders that prose can accomplish what no special effect could ever hope to achieve.
Langan’s understanding of his own work is as deep as the work itself, as is his knowledge of his literary predecessors. He’s best known for his short story collections, and we talked at length about how he came to create The Fisherman, which was itself a lengthy process. The Fisherman is easily one of the best novels of this year, a bracing feat of understanding the infinity of our inner world and the potential for cosmic horror to be found not in alternate dimensions, but here, now – in our own dark hearts.
Take a step sideways to listen to John Langan speak from a heart that is still beating.