I came to Tim Weed's latest collection of short fiction fresh from my reading of his hit novel, "Will Poole's Island." I was prepared, therefore, to be drawn into a story by way of its precisely described reality, but also, not far along in the story, to encounter a psychological aberration.
While I detect no sweeping arc that organizes the thirteen stories in "Field Guide to Murder and Fly Fishing," I am drawn to what they have in common. Most of the main characters are outsiders who have, or come to have, serious doubts. Each main character, often the narrator, is a relatively young man, in some cases not yet an adult, whose frame of mind is transformed through his experience.
The first and final stories feature fly fishing. In the opening story, a father who hopes to use angling at "Cutthroat Lake" to teach his young son respect for all life, is instead, through his son's action, thrown into a crisis of "recognition, dread and — worst of all — self doubt."
"Keepers," the final story, is a gripping tale of an incautious, indulgent fly fisherman trapped on a jetty as the Atlantic tide rises to cover him. All that the young father stands to lose transforms him into a wiser dad, kneeling submissively before his baby daughter, "like a surrendering general, or an errant dog."
Weed's characters are placed in a wide variety of situations, some far outside my experience. No matter. Weed leads me into a story by setting the scene in a reality I sort of know or can easily imagine and then slowly, ineluctably, carries me into circumstances that are real as only fiction can make them.
In "Tower Eight" and "Steal Your Face" I am carried into hallucinations induced by LSD. In "Dragon of Conchagua" I climb the cone of an El Salvadoran volcano while something eerie flutters in my peripheral vision. In "Mouth of the Tropics" I accompany a biologist motoring up the Orinoco in a hardwood dugout under the suspicious eyes of unfriendly tribal elders. In "Scrimshaw" I go with a thieving carpenter with access to posh vacation homes on a Cape Cod island where he pilfers artifacts (and so much more). In "The Foreigner" I find myself manipulated by ineffable figures under the illuminated Alhambra above Granada. In "Diamondback Mountain" I am swallowed in a snow avalanche. In "The Afternoon Client" I come ashore from deep-sea fishing unsure if I have or have not witnessed a murder.
Weed's stories, most of which have been previously published, are engrossing. His writing style is concise and his descriptions precise. (Did you know a mountaineer takes small steps and locks his knees between strides to rest his muscles?) He creates multi-dimensional characters with cogent and telling back-stories. He puts them in such a variety of settings that one marvels at the author's travel experiences. It did not surprise me, after reading "Money Pill," to learn that Tim Weed leads expeditions in Cuba.
Weed begins with the assumption that his readers are ready and able to see that the world is not as it seems. Things happen we cannot anticipate, and men change in surprising ways. Some of Weed's stories verge on magical realism, "The Foreigner" and "The Dragon of Conchagua," for example. But most of these tales reside in the world of the senses. No ghosts, fantastical creatures or extra-planetary aliens move these stories. But visions, dreams and hallucinations do. Humans and their sometimes mysterious natures are all it takes for Weed to spin fiction of the first order.
"Field Guide" stories expand my knowledge of the geographical world, certainly. And what better way to traverse the globe than with these engaging, sometimes hapless, young men who have stories to tell?
Tim Weed, a twenty-year resident of Putney and native Vermonter, has traveled extensively with the School for International Training, Putney Student Travel, and National Geographic. He teaches writing in the MFA program at Western Connecticut State University and at Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston. He serves on the organizing committee of the Brattleboro Literary Festival.
"A Field Guide to Murder and Fly Fishing" has been short listed for several upcoming fiction prizes. "The Afternoon Client" won the 2013 Writer's Digest Popular Fiction Award.
Charles Butterfield reviews books for the Brattleboro Literary Festival. He lives in Hinsdale, .
Editor's note: Tim Weed will be at Green Writer's Press' Book Launch on Friday, April 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Next Stage, 15 Kimball Hill, Putney where he will read from his book. More information at nextstagearts.org or greenwriterspress.com.