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Reviewed by:
  • A Field Guild to Murder & Fly Fishing by Tim Weed
  • Susan Sugai
Tim Weed. A Field Guild to Murder & Fly Fishing. Green Writers Press, 2017.

In A Field Guild to Murder & Fly Fishing, Tim Weed masterfully leads the reader on a journey through urban and natural landscapes where boys and men face challenges involving death and deception. Although the information overload of social media and smart phone apps seems to render a “field guide” as an anachronism, Weed’s place-based stories, laced with an occasional dash of magical realism, allow time travel back to the past. Most stories take place in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, where Generation X boys and men struggling with their self-identity and societal role are lulled by drugs and peer pressures.

Fly fishing plays a key role in this collection where “catch and release” rituals demonstrate the respect that hunters have for their prey, providing insight into the narrator’s distinction between empathy and murder when a teenager shoots a jay as target practice in “The Camp at Cutthroat Lake” or when an arrogant charter fisher is accidently lost at sea in “The Afternoon Client.” Indeed, Weed’s field guide provides the reader with a key to identifying characters so estranged from their natural environment (like James in “The Foreigner”) they cannot distinguish reality from conjured images.

Earth is a water planet and many of the stories in A Field Guide to Murder and Fly Fishing involve liquid or solid state water. In “Tower Eight,” bullied Gen X misfits dive from granite ledges into a New Hampshire quarry while high on LSD in the summer of 1982 and in winter, downhill ski while tripping out. In “Diamondback Mountain,” the pre-World War II skiers at an alpine resort in the Colorado Rocky Mountains are intoxicated with their female companions and trigger an avalanche trying to impress them. “Keepers,” the final story, has the most contemporary backdrop, where Elliott is fly [End Page 67] fishing in Nantucket while racing an incoming tide and a departing ferry schedule. His lost “four-hundred-dollar rod,” like the lost “four-hundred-dollar spinning rig” of “The Afternoon Client,” portends the failure of the hunter’s instincts.

Earth’s atmosphere is a unique feature of the planet and plays a key role in Weed’s Field Guide, too. In “Mouth of the Tropics,” when leaving the Amazon basin of Venezuela, Meech experiences turbulence in a seven-passenger Cessna, as does Kevin in his white-knuckled flights between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard in “Scrimshaw.” In both cases, the same model small plane yields a rough ride that mirrors the disruption to forged relationships with coworkers Juan and Phil, who were deeply entwined within their communities. In “The Dragon of Conchagua,” a wreck of a vintage Cessna that John stumbles upon in the approach to his climb of an Andean volcano with his brother Gabe, foreshadows the harrowing bus ride on the narrow highway “hugging the sides of Andean foothills that cradled the chaotic ugliness of the outer barrios of Quito.”

The loss of relatively intact natural environments witnessed through the construction of vacation mansions on Martha’s Vineyard in “Scrimshaw” and the conversion of the Highlands Ranch in the Colorado Front Range into subdivisions in “Six Feet under the Prairie” result in collateral damages that in the minds of Weed’s characters approach murder of the land and the livelihoods it supported.

Unlike fake news and misinformation found in Twitter feeds and Facebook posts, Weed’s short stories draw us away from the blue light of device screens. Under the blue skies and dark waters of A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing, readers can feel pain, empathy, and purpose bubbling out from the sharp-detailed mental images. Although James’s photographs of Granada in “The Foreigner” required the tactile experience of removing unex-posed silver halide salts from photographic films or papers, pixilated digital images can now appear on our electronic devices without effort or lag time.

The conflicts facing Tim Weed’s characters and places seem more urgent today than in the times in which the stories are based. The reader cannot...


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pp. 67-68
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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