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Fishing for Answers 

James Prosek's coming-of-age angling tale as much a page-turner as a heart-warmer

James Prosek is a Yale graduate, author, naturalist and artist. But more than anything, the 38-year-old Connecticutian is a fishing fanatic.

He has penned six books about fish, and even wrote and co-produced an award-winning fishing documentary for ESPN. Prosek, it seems, is on track to be New England's version of the Pacific Northwest's David James Duncan, the alluring writer (pun intended) and angling enthusiast, most famous for his 1983 novel "The River Why."

The similarities between both men, however, run deeper than their love of all things fish and river related. Rather than romanticize a life withdrawn from society, a la Thoreau and, at times, Edward Abbey, both Prosek and Duncan understand and explore the value of deep human connection. Both authors manage to weave interpersonal stories as well as humor into their fish tales, both idolize Izaak Walton and his magnum opus "The Compleat Angler," and both are well known for their coming-of-age stories (read Duncan's "The River Why" if you haven't already).

What I'm really saying is: If Prosek and Duncan aren't already pals, someone should introduce them!

Already a huge Duncan fan—also a sucker for coming-of-age novels—I started reading Prosek in preparation for the Nature of Words event. He hooked me (another one!) immediately with "The Day My Mother Left," a touching story of Jeremy, a 9-year-old who must pick up the pieces after his beloved mother abandons her suburban family. Jeremy's father, though devoted, becomes despondent when his wife suddenly leaves for another man and Jeremy's older sister is rarely available. The boy is left to contemplate, explore and, of course, fish—all as means to help him deal with his complicated emotions.

Often Jeremy's only saviors are the woods behind his house, his fishing pole and his sketchbook. But the optimistic young angler does find solace in two key characters: his rough and tumble Uncle John, a hunter and likable DIY kind of guy, and Jeremy's best friend, Stephen. And, much like Prosek himself—whose first book "Trout: An Illustrated History," which contained 70 watercolors of various trout—young Jeremy is also able to lose himself in his nature drawings. Art, Jeremy finds, proves a soothing balm for his wounded heart. How much does Prosek lean on his own life for inspiration for "The Day My Mother Left"? A lot, it seems, which makes for a fun page-turner.

James Prosek speaks several times during the weekend festival, including a reception at Confluence Fly Fishing Shop, Old Mill District, Friday, Nov. 8, 3 pm, invite-only; author reading at Tower Theatre, Friday, Nov. 8, 7 pm, $30; and workshop at OSU-Cascades Campus, Cascades Hall, 1–3 pm, $45.

Five other coming-of-age books that aren't "Catcher in the Rye"

"The River Why" by David James Duncan

"City of Thieves" by David Benioff

"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer

"Lean on Pete" by Willy Vlautin

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky


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