The Fisherman by John Langan
Word Horde (June 2016)
352 pages; $11.03 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by David Simms
Imagine, if you will, a dark tale co-written by Peter Straub and Thomas Ligotti, filtered through the whimsical sensibilities of Neil Gaiman and spoken to a friend over beers at a campfire. If that image conjures up something quite different than what you’ve read lately, John Langan’s The Fisherman might just be what a jaded reader craves this year.
The term “literary horror” is often misunderstood, sometimes turning away the casual fan and other times focusing more on the writing than the story itself. Fear not, this intriguing novel dispels the misconceptions as it is a smooth read, almost begging to be read on the porch with feet up and a drink in hand.
The Fisherman is about a pair of widowers attempting to find purpose in their lives. Abe lost his wife to a long, horrid battle with cancer, while Dan’s loss was more immediate, yet just as tragic. Both suffer guilt and damaged psyches, but each seek out a mission to put them back on track.
The pair begin fishing, finding solace in a mostly peaceful, solitary sport which allows plenty of time for introspection and bonding. Dan suggests the ideal spot: Dutchman’s Creek, a place not found on any map and full of local legend. The men discover the legend through the owner of a diner, within the story of one other, a Russian nesting doll of storytelling which could be distracting and deadly to readers’ attention spans; yet Langan succeeds through his voice, which speaks to one in a manner that holds engagement throughout the tale.
At the creek they discover Der Fisher, The Fisherman, and what he offers to both men: redemption with a price. A battle of wits, souls, and cosmic forces combine in a conflict which might just force the reader to let go of any prior assumptions of what Langan had planned.
To give more details would sully the tale the author weaves, as The Fisherman is meant to be experienced in a journey not unlike a raft ride down a mysterious river. Langan succeeds on all levels and will likely find audiences in places reaching far beyond the horror crowd.
Highly recommended for fans of smart, smooth storytelling.