Review: Lost in Wyoming
Interpersonal tensions explored.
- By: Seth Norman
Scott Sadil’s prose has surprised me since before Cast from the Edge: Tales of an Uncommon Fly Fisher (Greycliff Publishing). His craft improves with time; so does the clarity of his visions—of landscape and living things, especially fish; also of people, from gross motives to subtle moments. Sometimes the latter are so closely observed that the silences in would-be-lovers’ exchange shimmer with hopes and doubts that may heat instantly or cool even more quickly, leaving sudden vacuums with little room to breathe. Sadil speaks to details—the way a hand or voice or fish rises and turns, signifying everything or nothing—but let’s his characters answer the questions these raise…if they can.
The heart is a lonely hunter, we know. So it is often for a seeker we meet in several of these stories, by assorted names, several of whom might have once been Francis Sepic of Cast from the Edge. Here and there he’s a high-school teacher turned or turning guide-aimed-in-that direction; and these alters share also the same quests: for a soul-mate, for sex—if not with a soul-mate, with somebody, please the angels—and steelhead, preferably caught on a waking fly. These protagonists also cringe at memories of an ex-wife, still present as a sort of vicious super-ego. Here she is remembered at dawn in the title story, after a calamitous night in a campground, as a pilgrim named Packard considers his next move with, or on, his sleeping companion, and bighorns:
The sheep drift off, puffs of condensation rising from their flaring nostrils, their delicate mouths pinching the freshly irrigated grass. To Packard it seems as if the herd as a whole answers to some power as pure as gravity, the herd’s movement as tidal, even astronomical, as it is in response to the inclinations of life...Wrapped inside his tattered surplus Navy blanket, he recalls the years of dangerous dawns spent navigating his ex-wife’s perilous moods, his touch or gesture igniting eruptions fueled by night-old wine, insomnia, and her endless hours of undisturbed attention spent burnishing his infinite capacity to fail her.
So—who’s for coffee? That’s almost the next line spoken; but bathos turns to pathos when we remember Packard must soon say and do something.
We see a similar inversion in “The Longing Pleased”: “It’s the forty-three emails in forty-three days that alert Paddy Francis to his state of mind,” likely because all these are directed to a “standing flame” apparently extinguished. Sitting at his tying desk, Francis ponders the “symmetry” of solicitations ignored, wondering at what point his efforts to invite sweet Emily’s attention “…crossed into the realm of semantics, leaving behind the less rarified air of a spell of pronounced silence.” It takes conversation about this with an invested confidante to lay out a longer, larger picture—a women who, after all, he knew through a previous period when “...he felt particularly adept at making women happy by falling head-over-heels in love, giving each of them, the way he saw it, the profound pleasure of knowing she remained capable of breaking a man’s heart.”
Take a beat, then another… say “ow” and examine the wound.
I see these stories as a set, though they are not presented as such; they comprise only a part of Lost. Other pieces present the world from entirely different perspectives, often by women. Complex and powerful, also seekers, they are keenly self-aware; or perhaps, painfully self-absorbed, inclined to inflict the agony of an identity crisis upon earnest suitors and innocent pedestrians. Most treat marriage as an minor hindrance to self-exploration, or indulgence, and men with the kind of marginal care that justifies close and constant observation. For the record—and because fly fishing is relevant in almost every Lost story—characters’ casting skills range from novice to accomplished, save for a lady who just shoots a mean arrow.
And finally, to my favorites: Two of Lost’s stories find Seeker, or somebody like him, with sons…boys not too far from manhood, fishing with dad because—They want too? Just to please him—and is that bad? These are characters revealed by softer light, soothed if not serene, on occasion even comfortable with silence…tending relationships that will change and certainly endure. ?
Seth Norman is the author of Meanderings of a Fly Fisherman. His book reviews, unparalleled in this sport of ours, appear in each issue of this magazine.