Saturday, April 24, 2010

*Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, by Daniel Wallace

Big Fish is a quiet little book, not so much a novel as a series of small vignettes about the life of one Edward Bloom, who is now dying. Edward was one of those people for whom a day-to-day life with his family just wasn't enough, so he ended up missing a lot of his son William's life. As he's laying there dying, William begs to know more about his father, but Edward, who is the king of the one-liners, answers his son's questions with more jokes and reminisces of life before William came along. The book is William's way of trying to know and understand his father -- it is William's  construction of Edward's life based on Edward's often over-the-top stories.

Edward's tall tales are like a sign pointing William in a general direction toward the truth of his father's life: no matter what situation Edward found himself in, it was always important to him to be the big fish in the small pond. Edward notes that he always wanted to be a great man, and that he always felt it was his destiny to be so. William's reconstruction, which in many ways mythologizes Edward, is his attempt at making his absent father the great man he always wanted to be, even though William feels that a great man is someone of whom it could be said that he was loved by his son. The "myths" William creates about his father in this book are a step toward not only William being able to connect at some level with Edward before he dies, but are also William's way of loving his father as best he can.

Big Fish is a small book, but read it slowly because there is a lot to uncover here.

A note about the Tim Burton film: the movie picks up these little vignettes and expands them into fuller stories, and is a joy to watch as well as a full-fledged tear jerker at times.  If you haven't seen the movie, read the book first so you get more into William's head.

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