The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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A Good Story Spoiled

Michael R. Bowen, MD

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Michael R. Bowen, MD

mbowen@americasvoices.org       
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"The covers of this book are too far apart."
-- Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), American writer and satirist

May 13, 2003


Consider this passage from an idyllic description of a fishing trip on the upper Connecticut River:

"I'd like to think that there are differences between New Hampshire bass and their Vermont cousins, the former being more rugged and vigorous, more self-reliant, with less goody-goody political correctness, but they refuse to fit my political anthropomorphism…."

Ticked off now?  You're probably wondering what the heck these snide political cracks are doing in the middle of a story about fly-fishing.  And if you are liberal, especially from Vermont, you are even madder.  You know what?  I don't blame you a bit.  Maybe you'll feel better after I give you the actual passage, taken from Upland Stream, by W. D. Wetherell:

"I'd like to think that there are differences between New Hampshire bass and their Vermont cousins, the latter being less reactionary, more generous and fair, but they refuse to fit my political anthropomorphism…."

Now what do you think?  See anything wrong with that passage?  If you don't, you're Peter Jennings or Dan Rather.  Liberalism?  What liberalism?  It's just what any reasonable person would think, no?

Upland Stream is a book filled with excellent fishing essays, written by a man with a real feel for the sweetness of fly-fishing.  But time and again, just as the reader has been swept up by Mr. Wetherell's charm, he's jarred by the intrusion of splenetic politics.  A lovely piece about a New Hampshire trout pond opens with a diatribe against the state's politics, and even its principal newspaper.  Another story about summer bluefish makes a promising start, but the reader soon finds that the bluefish are just a prop for sticking a thumb in the eye of then-president George H. W. Bush.

Harry Middleton's The Earth Is Enough is one of the sweetest, most engaging bits of fly-fishing fiction I've ever read (and re-read many times), but for all that it still manages to irritate.  Every Christian believer is a narrow-minded bigot, and every person hell-bent on exploiting the land is naturally a Republican.  (You'd think that no shopping mall was ever built, or any SUV ever driven, by a Democrat.)  I've read every book John Gierach ever wrote, and enjoyed them all, but if you've ever cracked a tooth on birdshot while enjoying a delicious braised pheasant breast, you know what it feels like when you come across his gratuitous jabs at conservatives and Republicans.  And Howell Raines, he of the New York Times:  if you removed the anti-Republican political bile from Fly-Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, you'd be left with about 20 pages of mediocre fishing story.  Speaks volumes about the state of the Times since Mr. Raines took over.

Now, I don't golf, and I don't follow football, basketball, hockey, or baseball, so I can't say this for certain, but I'll bet you don't see a lot of snide cracks about liberals in the literature of those sports.  I've seen only one article that might fit that descriptiona description of Bill Clinton's golf cheating in the late American Spectatorand that was an out-and-out political article in a political magazine.

Maybe it's the mark of a writer who finds that he's bitten off more than he can chew, a man who finds that the story requires more than his talent can supply, so that he must resort to throwing in clever political cracks lest you think he's intellectually inadequate.  That's probably the case some of the time, but it doesn't explain Mr. Middleton or Mr. Wetherell.  Perhaps I'm making the same mistake people make about celebrities, and the one celebs often make about themselves:  that because they're a somebody, they must know what they're talking about when they venture outside of their expertise and beyond their level of education.  Or it could be that arrogant assumption of the Leftthat anyone with half a brain, anyone sophisticated enough to appreciate the things the Left appreciates, must also see the world through Leftist eyes.

And while we're on the subject, let me point out that "conservative" does not equal "reflex ravager of the earth".  It's probably news to the Left, but it's possible to love and appreciate the natural world without swallowing every Al Gore pronouncement.  Last week I fished a crowded river all weekend, and I can tell you that the Democrats were very much in the minority.  It reminds me of the time I squashed a liberal anti-hunting rant by observing that if all the animals were gone, hunters would be the first ones to notice, and the longest to grieve.

Whatever the explanation, this trait of outdoor writers is annoying and juvenile.  Mark Twain famously described golf as "A good walk spoiled", and that's how I feel when authors sour good writing with opinions about Reagan, Hoover, and Bush.  So let me tell you fellas:  when I pick up one of your books, I'm looking for a good fishing story.  I'm not looking for your political commentary, and I don't care how ashamed you are of New Hampshire while you continue to live there and enjoy the nice low taxes when your sainted Vermont is right across the river.  From now on, I'll skim your books before I buy, and put them back on the shelves when I spot you getting stinky.  And if one slips by me, when I come across it at home your book will go directly into the crapper, where Mr. Raines' book went.

Copyright © Copyright © 2020 by Michael R. Bowen, MD & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  He writes the weekly column
"The Basics" and the occasional guest column "Mixed Reviews" for America's Voices, a conservative political opinion and educational web site.  His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including Opinionet.com and Enterstageright.com.  E-mail Dr. Bowen at mbowen@americasvoices.org.

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