Book Review : John Langan - The Fisherman (2016)
The Great Unspoken Problem with boogeyman stories is that only your first is truly scary. Other boogeymen will always play catch up to your first great moment of terror. That doesn't mean great horror isn't being written every year because it is, but it's never outwardly trying to scare anyone. It's a zen thing. The book never scares the reader, the reader scares himself while reading the book. Horror author John Langan "gets" it. His new novel The Fisherman is sometimes ambitious to a fault, but it got my gears turning and seeped into my subconscious before I knew what hit me.
The Fisherman is a horror novel about two widowers named Abe and Dan. Abe lost his wife Marie to cancer a long time ago and Dan lost his wife and children in an accident much more recently. They adopted fishing as a form of therapy and spend hours together in different rivers, trying to gather themselves and overcome tragedies that hold them prisoners of the past. Abe and Dan eventually catch wind of the legendary Ashokan Reservoir, land of mythical fishing and other miracle. They are immediately drawn to this place that will confront them to what they lost and force them to take decisions that will seal their fate.
I believe it was Cody Goodfellow who said cosmic horror is pulp existentialism. Of course he was very right and The Fisherman is philosophically loaded, to say the least. Protagonists Abe and Dan have tragically lost their loved ones, but they're the farthest thing from cliché brooding avengers. They're victims of fate, hanging somewhere between life and death and looking for a meaning that was brutally swept away from their lives. Langan's choppy, colloquial first person narration helps carrying the feeling of loss because it's lean on emotion. Abe (who's narrating the novel) is not a tragic figure. He's trying to survive in the most pragmatic manner: by getting up every day and doing things to occupy his mind.
But the coolest thing with The Fisherman is the symbolism of water. This Heraclitus concept is central to understanding the dilemma that's tearing Abe and Dan apart: "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." They are going to the river to become new man and let the past flow away, but they come in weigh-in with the ghosts of their loved ones and becoming new men could mean going different ways. The dilemma them becomes: will they swim against the current of the Ashokan Reservoir or trust its water to leads them where they want to go? Of course, The Fisherman is a horror novel, but what makes it scary is the very human choice Abe and Dan have to face between a comfortable melancholy and anxious future.
There's a huge twist early in The Fisherman that I don't want to ruin for you. It's pretty cool and innovative in the way its implemented and adds an atmospheric layer over the novel. I thought Abe's narration sometimes torpedoed the more dramatic moments (especially at the end), but John Langan lives and dies with his decision like a champ and it was worth trying out to in order to address the issue of loss which is crucial to The Fisherman's success. So, there you go. The Fisherman is not trying to scare you out of your pants, but it's reaching into collective experiences and human drama in order to pull you in. A haunting, cerebral and memorable cosmic horror novel.