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Review: 'Reeling,' by Sarah Stonich

Review: 'Reeling,' by Sarah Stonich

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"Reeling," by Sarah Stonich. (University of Minnesota Press/TNS)

FICTION: The second novel in Sarah Stonich's planned trilogy tells a tender tale of fishing, fresh air and grief.

"Reeling" by Sarah Stonich; University of Minnesota Press (276 pages, $15.95)


After reading a Sarah Stonich novel, I want to go fishing. I want to sit in a boat at dawn and plop a surface Rapala between fallen logs and reel it in across calm water. In her latest novel, "Reeling" — the second in a planned trilogy — Stonich dips into that meditative state, reeling the reader in with a beautiful tale of love and grief.

As in "Fishing," the first novel of the Minnesota writer's trilogy (original title: "Fishing With RayAnne"), RayAnne Dahl is the host of an all-female fishing show on public television. It's the show's second season and RayAnne and crew are on location in New Zealand. As they cross the rugged terrain to interview under-the-radar women saving the planet, RayAnne reassesses her life.

Her brother Kyle is a full-time dad and "cul-de-sac foot soldier," who, while raising hyperactive boys, is fighting an attraction to his wife's sister. RayAnne's absentee father has married a Bible-banging widow. Her hot boyfriend might be losing interest because she can't commit, and her mother is off counseling menopausal clients in sacred hot spots. But what distracts RayAnne most of all, what has her imagining things, is the recent death by suicide of her grandmother.

As anyone who has ever felt grief knows, our loved ones come to us, or at least we long for them to. RayAnne's longing brings Gran to her cellphone, her GPS monitor, her rearview mirror — like a supportive and plucky guide on this, her most arduous adventure.

"Grief is a cement truck that ceaselessly unloads formless piles of gray where your loved one used to be," RayAnne thinks, as even the smallest things remind her of the woman who loved her more than anyone else in the world. The weathered hands of a guest on her show bring to mind her grandmother's "physicality: her smell … the clap of her floury hands, the warmth of her, the way her goofy laugh shook her entire body."

The book is filled with beautiful scenery and piercing descriptions of grief; wide-open vistas on the outside reveal roiling waters on the inside. But as RayAnne works through the stages of grief (chapters are borrowed from Kubler-Ross' phases), she persists with the show, sometimes hilariously and always skillfully.

She fishes skipjack, tossing buckets of slimy chum while the fish fly. She marvels at a deep-diving chinook-fishing vizsla, happens upon an octogenarian fly-tying guru, gets a dressing down from an "anti-fashion designer," and interviews two sisters fighting meth addiction by way of trapping and selling possum.

This is a fun read, important and tender. The women whose stories RayAnne tells are rare and strong. They're the salmon popping up against the current of our society, propelled by instinct and a desire to keep life going. I'm glad we see them straining upstream in this book. And I'm glad Stonich shows them to us because beyond being an entertaining tale, this book is a tribute to all the elder women in our lives who quietly keep life going by filling the world with love.


Christine Brunkhorst is a Twin Cities writer and reviewer.


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