I do have a personal connection to this author, but I have done my best to remove any bias this brought into my enjoyment of the novel.
“‘We carry the weight of what we’ve been taught and not taught from an early age. …And sometimes we spend a lifetime trying to recover from it.’” pg. 240
Joe Paatalo’s novel The Eddy follows Toby Casper after he survives a suicidal motorcycle ride in to a Kansas twister. After his attempt he ends up going from a well off school outside of Kansas City, Missouri to a school in the inner city of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St.Paul,) Minnesota. In this school he meets Mitchell James an eccentric English teacher with his own demons. The two strike up a friendship and by the end of Toby’s high school career the two have become unlikely friends. The two then go on a fly fishing trip across the west, starting in Minnesota and ending in Oregon, where Toby has decided to go to college. While this trip, for Toby, starts out as a time to learn to fly fish and enjoy his summer before college it becomes being as much about fishing as it is about self discovery and coming to terms with his own dark past.
I loved this novel. I wasn’t sure if I would get lost in the fly fishing jargon but knowing what it looks like to fly fish helped me with those parts, imagining what it looked like to fly fish even when I didn’t know what “mending” a line was or what certain types of flies looked like. Perhaps, it was that I imagined this novel from from a third person view instead of first person like the book is written it. Watching what was happening from the bank instead on being the one actually fishing.
I honestly wasn’t sure if I would like this novel at all because I don’t enjoy fishing, it’s boring for me. While the second part of the novel where all of the fishing happens, I found the descriptions that Paatalo used, not only in explaining fly fishing but the areas around the river, the fish and the river itself to hold my interest. Not only that but the conversations between James and Toby had such a wide variety from humorous, sad and at times deeply thought provoking.
James and Toby are easy to imagine as real people. At one point they go to a bar to watch the Minnesota Twins play on TV. James playfully bashes Toby for liking the Kansas City Royals who, at the time this book was written, had not won the World Series since 1985. Toby agrees that they aren’t very good but “once you’re blue you’re always true.” (pg. 161) They both go on to talk about the Cubs, who like the Royals had not won a World Series title since 1908. I imagine I had a stupid grin on my face this whole time as both of these teams have won since this book came out, 2015 and 2017 respectively. I found myself wondering what they would have to say about this, and it was relieving to get a chuckle out of something that I actually know about and enjoy. At this point in the book I felt more like I was sitting at the table with them rather than standing on the bank.
Paatalo starts the book out in a high school environment, this allows for the growth of Toby to be easy to see. He starts out having no idea what he wants to do after school, only staying because he knew that a G.E.D wasn’t going to get him anywhere. He is very angry, getting in a fights both at his old school and his new one and as the suicidal attempt would suggest, depressed. He becomes a different person by the end of the novel an it is beautiful to watch this transformation happen through traveling and fishing.
The Eddy is a wonderful read, for those who do and don’t love fly fishing. Paatalo beautifully crafts this novel using descriptions of the environment, character interaction with each other and with the environment. Philosophy is interwoven in the writing which caused me to pause every once in a while to ponder things that were said by the characters. I really suggest that anyone picks up a copy of this book and reads it.