PALE MORNING DONE. By Jeff Hull. The Lyons Press. 343 pages. $14.95.
Marshall Tate is a 33-year-old former fly fishing guide trying to read the waters of life and figure out where, and how, to lay out his next cast, how to be his own man.
It is a quest that at times proves as befuddling and confounding as finicky trout in deep summer, and one that keeps a reader turning pages to discover what kind of trouble Tate will find himself immersed in next:
Trouble over and with women. Trouble over water rights with his crusty cowboy neighbor, old man Klingman, and his sons. Trouble with the fish and fishing that are his enduring passion. Every day seems to bring a new surprise, walking hand-in-hand with a companion disaster.
Tate lives alone on a ranch owned by his rich, powerful, cocky eastern father. It is a place he is trying to make something of, on his own, the arrogant influence of his father, Skipjack Tate, to the contrary.
Having discarded the daily grind and sometime public relations nightmares of guiding, he has labored mightily on the ranch for two years, with his two hands and a backhoe, to virtually create an idyllic, trout-filled spring creek one he can share, and rent by the day, to fly fishing customers.
His fly fishing friends, and enemies, mostly are strong, independent, sometimes brutal and always brutally honest characters. That is a formula for an at-times volatile story, but one which sheds light on the reality of the life and times of thirty-somethings in the novel s place and time.
It is clear from the daily nitty-gritty detail in Pale Morning that Hull is intimately familiar with fly fishing in general he has angled from Iceland and Scotland to French Polynesia and New Zealand. Even the title of this, Hull s first novel, is a play on words a pale morning dun actually is a lightly colored mayfly species favored by trout which, unlike many species, may emerge during the morning instead of just in the evening or at night.
It is clear that the author knows a thing or two about something foreign to many Easterners the always edgy issue of water rights in the arid, arid West.
It also is clear, from the development of Tate s character vis-a-vis the characters of Daisy Klingman and her potential rival for his affections, guide Molly Huckabee, that the main character truly is a man. In other words, he knows nothing, and never will know anything, about women.
A former Fremont resident, Hull grew up trout fishing at Rockwell Springs Trout Club at nearby Castalia, and walleye and perch fishing off Put-in-Bay in western Lake Erie. Castalia area trout fishing even makes it into the pages of Pale Morning, which is a nice touch.
There s something about that place that feels like home waters to me, even though it s been years since I fished it, said Hull, who is 42 and moved west 20 years ago.
Another nice touch is the intricate detail about different aspects of fly fishing, which is done in an easy, over-the-shoulder sort of way, so that the reader does not become either threatened or confused by this fine art and pleasant misery. At times this pursuit can be phonied up by elitists into an arcane mystery that should never be revealed to lesser, nonfishing mortals.
The writing is crisp and clean and the story moves along well, except when the author gets a mite too caught up in descriptions of the admittedly and achingly beautiful Montana mountain country that he calls home. He clearly knows how to use words, but rare passages can be somewhat overwhelming, almost too well written.
I had a couple of very inspiring English teachers at Fremont Ross Shirley Babione and Judi Smith who stoked my interest in great books and great writing, the author says. Writing has been a lifelong interest he confesses to penning horribly written novels on yellow legal tablets as a teenager and hiding them under his bed.
Hull learned more about his trade at Penn State University and at the University of Montana and has earned his stripes writing for newspapers and magazines, the latter including The Atlantic Monthly, Audubon, Smithsonian, and National Geographic Traveler, plus a host of outdoors publications including Fly Rod & Reel, Fly Fisherman, Outside, and Outdoor Life.
The ending of Marshall Tate s tale is beautifully crafted and bittersweet, with some paths forever closed and any promise of the future only vaguely suggested. His second novel is hoped for. It ought to be a dandy, Marshall Tate or no.
Contact Steve Pollick at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.