Indie Book Reviews and a Look at Indie Publishers
by Lanie Tankard, Book Review Editor
Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, October 11, 2016 ($24.00 cloth, 232 pages). ISBN 978-1-57131-352-2 (Also available as ebook.)
An acknowledged poet, Chris Dombrowski speaks here through nonfiction in his latest book. His published work includes two collections of poems, By Cold Water (2009) and Earth Again (2013), as well as poetry and nonfiction in environmental magazines (such as Orion) and literary journals (such as The Sun) plus two poetry chapbooks: Fragments with Dusk in Them (2008) and September Miniatures with Blood and Mars (2012). He is cofounder and director of Bear Grass Writing Retreat in Missoula, Montana, and has taught at various locations including Interlochen Center for the Arts and the University of Montana, where he earned his MFA. Dombrowski has also been a fly-fishing guide for several decades.
An independent nonprofit international literary publisher, Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has produced more than three hundred titles over thirty-six years. Milkweed also works to create a community for the literary arts in the Twin Cities region through programs such as Open Book and a bookstore started in September called Milkweed Books. Milkweed accepts unsolicited manuscript submissions in fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry from “authors of all backgrounds (previously published or not),” as long as they meet the guidelines found on their submissions page.
Fishing provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way. A form of meditation, some form of communion with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self.”—Ted Hughes
Chris Dombrowski went to the Bahamas to catch fish and release clinical depression. In Body of Water, he captures the poetry of fishing hook, line, and sinker while simultaneously sharing the meditative outlook that sent his dark clouds packing. Through his creative nonfiction approach, a factual narrative emerges prepared with memoir and reporting. As a longtime fly-fishing guide in Montana, he puts his well-honed angling skills to good use in these waters.
The book casts its net widely, pulling in memories from Dombrowski’s life, details about the elusive bonefish he’s come to snare, snapshots of the mangroves in which they dwell, factoids about the islands that harbor the tropical evergreen tree, perceptive musings about what makes a fishing guide, and most of all—softly brushed portraits of the friendship that evolves with the man who becomes the author’s lifelong guide: David Pinder, known as “Senior.”
Pinder has a sixth sense about bonefish. This water vertebrate with gills is almost inedible due to numerous tiny bones, but is prized anyway by fly casters due to the sporting challenge of its speed. Pinder has built a profession on the art of bonefishing. And as Dombrowski gradually discovers, Pinder can guide him to far more than mere fish. Dombrowski utilizes his poetic antennae to discern philosophical wisdom from this almost-blind Bahamian who possesses an insight rife with the accumulated learning of a sage.
By eliciting Pinder’s stories and combining them with his own, Dombrowski weaves a complex dual account. Pinder’s conversations with Dombrowski recall a history of events more slippery than the bonefish themselves. Dombrowski’s prowess with words secures the essence of Pinder’s reminiscences. For example, in order for a fishing expedition to be successful, a subtle transfer of power needs to occur from a high-paying client to a knowledgeable guide. Dombrowski ponders how that occurs. Dombrowski also draws from Pinder experiences illustrating an exploitation of people and resources, a hierarchy of race, and examples of consequent racism.
Sadly, the book’s finale encompasses a built-in poignancy. Fly casters with the monetary resources to partake in the bonefishing game gathered around this guide with the golden knack. Over the years, they transformed both a place and a man. Overfishing led to coral reef decay, water pollution, and the difficulty of waste disposal. Tourism left this fishing guide, whose global reputation drew a large proportion of those tourists, living in poverty in a shack and the Bahamas facing problems with no easy solutions. Today Pinter’s sons carry on their father’s business while the unceasing tide continues its daily rise and fall.
In Body of Water, Chris Dombrowski has fashioned an effective tapestry picturing a tiny segment of life on planet Earth. Understanding such microcomponents is necessary for our overall view of the whole. One senses instinctively that Dombrowski’s heart ebbs and flows with his story. And that intuition is always what bonds an author with a reader.
Lanie Tankard is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher in Austin, Texas. She is former production editor of Contemporary Psychology book review journal. Her book reviews have been published widely, including in The Kansas City Star, Austin American-Statesman, Florida Times-Journal Magazine, and online in River Teeth, Women’s Memoirs, Draft No. 4, and 100 Memoirs.
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