REVIEW: Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon by Cameron Pierce
Cameron Pierce’s Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon is an assortment of fish stories — big lies and tall tales. The collection certainly questions both fiction’s purpose and its allure. Pierce’s Our Love features fish in a variety of contexts. In some stories, the fish are main characters; in others, the fish are merely setting or background detail. Though the collection could benefit from a stronger sense of connection between the tales, Our Love reminds us of man’s primal drive for dominance and sport.
Pierce’s characters are risk-takers. Some, like the couple on the run in “Let Love In,” are willing to give up security in favor of achieving a big break. Fishing (or trying to obtain fish) serves as a point of connection for many of the characters — often binding children to their parents well into adulthood. This is a device used by Pierce to raise questions of mortality, and to ground his characters through the act of killing, whether it be for sport or food. Collectively, Pierce’s stories can be taken as an example of the many ways we try to distract ourselves with diversions, how we use shared experience and hobbies to help us relate to each other.
We first see the generational connection in the title story. A grandson takes his wheelchair-bound grandmother fishing, reliving memories of their fishing trips from the past. Together, they reel in the biggest fish they’ve ever caught:
“Come on out, you bastard!”she shouted, muscling a trout toward the shore with her frail arms. That was Grandma. Crippled and blind, but totally mad for fish. My very own Captain Ahab.”
The fish on the line drags them into the water, lifting Grandma from her chair. When the story ends, her grandson looks back to the dock and sees that Grandma is missing. The big fish both brings them together and is the reason for their separation. Pierce returns several times to the idea of storytelling, which pairs nicely with the theme of fishing, and is a way for him to explore the archetypal struggle of man vs. beast. Use of the motif of fishing raises questions about death, risk, and lying. Fishing becomes a more trivial way to resolve man’s need to capture and kill, as it isn’t barbarous enough that most people find it objectionable.
“We didn’t understand the chasms that could open up inside a man and swallow him whole and unless you were there in that jungle yourself, you may never understand the particular chasm we faced. So when people like you ask me what it was like, I try not to let my feelings known. And I sure as hell never tell them the story of the best man I ever knew. But I’m gonna tell you now, because sometimes the lie gets old.”
Characters in Our Love are constantly pondering their own existence. In “The Bass Fisherman’s Wife,” a speculative and humorous examination of the seductive draw of fisherman to fish, Pierce writes of a man who loves his wife without hesitation, saying, “For sixteen years they’d lived as man and wife. Could they live as man and bass?” Without giving the end away, “The Bass” includes a delightful transformational element reminiscent of Aimee Bender’s work. Yet for several other stories like it, Our Love loses its footing. Tales without the strong emotional resonance of familial relationships feel less connected to a thematic ideal and more like they were selected for their literal relevance as stories of fish.
But with “Easiest Kites there are to Fly,” Pierce delivers what becomes his strongest emotional message. A man begins to hallucinate that he is seeing fish. A heightened emotional state following his father’s death brings this on.
“The man didn’t get it either. Another darkness had entered his life. At his daddy’s funeral, an unexpected visitor had showed. That unspeakable fish they caught years before hovered above his daddy’s coffin. Nobody else noticed or acknowledged, but the man, he wept in fear. His wife squeezed his hand and wept harder herself. People around him issued little nods as if to say, ‘We feel you, son. We feel your pain.’When the fish lowered itself onto the coffin, sliming the lacquered lid, the man could no longer contain himself. He cried out, ‘Go away.’
“People thought he spoke of pain and death. Go away, pain. Go away, death. But the man had no beef with pain or death. No move could ever be made in life without inflicting hurt on someone or something else.”
Here, as in many of the other stories, Pierce pushes characters into difficult situations in order to explore their pain.This is when he does his best work. Where for some, fishing is a means of escape, for others it represents madness and obsession.His collection is given weight by this idea of balance — equal and opposite actions — for every time one person advances, another is left behind.
Fish stories and memories haunt these characters’ lives and many are unable to escapetheir own fears and base drives. Pierce’s characters tell stories that are not to be believed. Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon challenges our understanding of why we seek out opportunities to kill for sport. Does it say something about us that we bond while hunting lesser animals? For Pierce, fishing is both calming hobby and barbarous obsession. His characters are caught somewhere in between.