Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon
by Cameron Pierce
(Broken River Books, 222 p.)
No short story collection bridges the gap between genre and literary fiction with the raw intensity and apparent ease that Cameron Pierce’s Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon does. Pierce, whose early work is now part of the bizarro fiction canon, has slowly moved toward literary fiction while retaining the best elements of the bizarro aesthetic, and the result is the kind of prose that demands to be read, praised, and shared. The shift in his work was perceptible in Die You Doughnut Bastards, the author’s previous collection, but the stories in that book could arguably still be called entirely bizarro. Now, Pierce has reached a new level and the tales collected in this volume offer an outstanding combination of heartfelt writing, outlandish occurrences, and pure storytelling chops.
The primary and most obvious cohesive element bringing the narratives in this book together is fish. Fishing, the fish we dream about and remember catching, thinking about going fishing, the moments we share with others near the water, and what happens before, during, and after the line goes taught and something pulls at the submerged end are things that come up time and again. However, there’s also an underlying layer of elements that give the stories outstanding depth and make this a memorable compilation: love, loss, regret, (dis)honesty, and the power of memories. For the author, fishing is a way to look at life, and sometimes life resembles the tall tales often shared by fishermen. Whether he’s describing a grandmother who gets pulled into a watery grave by an almost mythological fish or telling the creepy story of a creature that wouldn’t be out of place in an H.P. Lovecraft story, Pierce constantly pulls together concepts from the outmost edges of outré fiction and the kind of unassumingly profound storytelling that made authors like Flannery O’Connor and George Singleton household names.
The beauty of this collection lies in the fact that, while every story is different, they are constructed in a way that each holds a representative piece of the book’s soul. For example, “The Bass Fisherman’s Wife,” a weird love story with an unforgettable finale, is about tenderness, change, and exploring the terrain of opportunities. It’s also, like many of the narratives here, about human nature in an entertaining, roundabout way:
As he said this, he unzipped his human skin, pulling from the crown of his head down over his forehead and lips and neck and heart and even further down, until his skin and clothes and mechanical human limbs fell to the floor. He too fell. The bass fisherman lay before his wife as what he really was: a man-sized earthworm.
Pierce creates characters that are easy to care about and understand, and then he throws them time into incredible situations that force the reader to evaluate the actions she would take in the place of that character. This proximity makes Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon the kind of collection that slowly and steadily peels the callous layers covering the reader’s heart until the raw inner core is exposed, and then it pours equal amounts of sugar and salt into the exposed epicenter.
There are no throwaways in the 14 stories that make up this book, but there are a few narratives that stand out even when surrounded by top-notch fiction. For example, “Sway” is a very short story that explores how easy it is for love to adapt in abnormal situations. “Short of Lundy” shows what happens when fishermen fibs are placed in the hands of a talented author with a knack for the fantastic. “The Snakes of Boring,” which was previously released as a limited edition novella and is now finally available to everyone, is something akin to a Coen brothers movie in which they pay tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s most over-the-top moments. Lastly, “Easiest Kites There are to Fly” embodies the pain/love/weirdness/depth mixture that permeates the collection:
The man didn’t get it either. Another darkness had entered his life. At his daddy’s funeral, an unexpected visitor had showed. That unspeakable fish they caught years before hovered above his daddy’s coffin. Nobody else noticed or acknowledged, but the man, he wept in fear. His wife squeezed his hand and wept harder herself. People around him issued little nods as if to say, ‘We feel you, son. We feel your pain.’ When the fish lowered itself onto the coffin, sliming the lacquered lid, the man could no longer contain himself. He cried out, ‘Go away.’
People thought he spoke of pain and death. Go away, pain. Go away, death. But the man had no beef with pain or death. No move could ever be made in life without inflicting hurt on someone or something else.
Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon is a brave hybrid that reaches out rhyzomatically and gives genre lovers something to celebrate while simultaneously proving that the boundaries of literary fiction possess an infinite elasticity. Between legends, monsters, a lot of fishing, and exploring the way people (re)act under various circumstances, Cameron Pierce has delivered a collection of stories that are as uncanny as they are brilliant.