The Peripatetic Reviewer

BECAUSE I find fishing, the play of sunlight and shadow on water and the signals of the life beneath, the most complete and bewitching relaxation from a life devoted to print, I am occasionally asked for advice, not as an expert but as an addict who has learned from his trials. “Jack has always had a yen to fish,” said the wife of a friend recently, “ but now that he’s got the time, he’s too shy to begin. Claims he doesn’t know anything about casting or what tackle to get. How do I push him in?” I think that’s true of more fifty-year-olds than ever admit it: their friends who belong to the fraternity of the dry fly talk a jargon that will scare away most beginners. What Jack needs for his conversion is the joy of catching fish; the art of not catching he can develop later. Specifically what he needs is an old hat, a pair of sneakers, and a bottle of insect repellent. I did my learning on a Bristol split-bamboo rod that cost $16; Jack can do his on a mediumpriced fly rod and reel at a cost of $30, or as much more as he cares to pay (the famous name-rods, a Leonard, a Thomas, a Paine, or a Hardy, will come close to $100).
But most of all, Jack needs the tight line and the feel of a jumping smallmouthed or the swift rush of a trout. He should not be ashamed to use bait. I know two friends who fish a mountain brook. The brook has two branches winding through three miles of thick brush. They leave one car at the bottom, drive to the top, and go their separate ways with worm cans. They never fail to catch enough brookies for the meal when they converge — and incidentally, the bottom pool is an excellent icebox for their bottled beer. So what Jack needs is worms for the trout brook, or minnows or hellgrammites for the bass pond. Plenty of time for the dry flies after his conversion.
A second friend, setting off in early July for a month’s cruise which will carry him as far as Newfoundland, asked if I thought he could hold a salmon on his telescopic steel rod. I said I thought he could, and gave him the names of the three standard wet flies (size 4) which a salmon might rise to at the river’s mouth —Black Dose, Durham Ranger, and Mar Lodge. That collapsible steel rod of his is probably the best all-purpose implement for one who will be fishing as opportunity permits, in the sea, river mouth, or fresh water — and who won’t take much time cleaning up his gear. I have seen one of these steel rods bring in 30 tinker mackerel by trolling pork rind through the schools over which the terns work so beautifully; I have seen it land an 8-pound striper which struck at a Mickey Finn. I have seen it cranking in flounders and cod; and though I have never seen it kill a salmon, I believe it could if the line and backing were strong enough.
My third query comes from the parents of a tenyear-old. The boy will be spending this summer on an island off the coast of Maine, but he will be fishing inland later, and they want something for both. In this case I am inclined to recommend a glass rod 8 or 9 feet in length, weighing 4½ to 6 ounces, with an extra tip. (The rod and reel should not cost more than $12.) Most of his fun will be stillfishing, using a bobber or depending upon that telegraphic tug, and I’d rather see him get used to a long rod than a short bait caster, which is a specialty. A glass rod will weather the difference between salt water and fresh without, rusting, and the tip is not so likely to be “set” (that is, bent) by that fierce pull when you think you have hooked a monster and only have the bottom. But for the boy whose initiation will begin on the fresh-water stream or lake, I still favor the split bamboo, because to me it is more responsive than either steel or glass, and because it has a beauty which a boy who may be sloppy in other respects will treasure. Steel looks indestructible, so you leave it around; glass can’t be broken, so you don’t worry; bamboo you know is fragile, so you varnish and wipe it and sleep with it.
Even the vigilant are sometimes betrayed. Three of us were paddling home this June after some evening fishing on the Ipswich River; the sun had gone down, and we were working hard against the strong current, cutting a diagonal between the maples and alders which reached out from either bank. I had just told Ted to pick it up, and had made a big dig with my own paddle, when I heard a gasp and looked around just in time to see my lovely Thomas rod lifted out of the stern by the maple branch and deposited full length and without a trace in seven feet of water. It was too dark to do anything more than mark the spot, and we went home in what could be mildly described as a morose state. Before ten the next morning — it had come on to rain — Ted and I, with Fritzy to cheer us, paddled back to the same spot, now in our bathing suits. We had borrowed a pair of rubber frog feet; and with these to help us in our swimming against the current, we dove and searched the bottom. Ted was sure the rod must have drifted at least fifteen feet from where it fell, so he policed that area. I began my diving at a point where I had last seen the rod disappear. The current was so strong that we’d be washed back three feet in the process of reaching the sand floor. Six times in succession I kicked down and grappled for waterlogged sticks, for pebbles, or nothing, and then in one last desperate reach I touched the smooth, tiny tip of the rod, and light as a feather it lifted as I surfaced. Of all those square indies of sandy bottom, how did I touch that one? What a relief!

Take her down!

The epic of how the United States carried on the war in the Pacific has been slow to write. At V-J Day many chapters were still a matter of mystery; there were survivors to be found, Jap officers to be interrogated, and their official records to be checked back against ours. Seven volumes of Captain Samuel Eliot Morison’s history of the Navy in World War II are now in print; in its account of the Coral Sea, Midway, and the struggle for Guadalcanal, it reached a fortissimo; and with the publication next spring of Volume VIII on New Guinea and the Marianas, this monumental work will have passed the mid-point. Five years of the most intensive research went into the first volume of Walter D. Edmonds’s history of the Air Force in the Philippines, They Fought with What They Had. And now, in Submarine! (Holt, $3.50), Commander Edward L. Beach, USN, a veteran of twelve war patrols, has given us the first authoritative annul of those silent, gray ships, Trigger, Wahoo, Seawolf, Harder, Albacore, Tang, and the others, which held the line after Pearl Harbor.
The story begins on a note of exasperated fury as the record of “dud” and “premature” torpedoes is brought back to Midway or to Australia by skippers who had taken their ships far into Japanese waters only to see their quarry glide by unharmed. This failure in naval ordnance has never been satisfactorily explained, nor is it here, but what the men felt who were risking their lives is explicit enough. Commander Beach writes with great naturalness. He has a good eye for detail and a racy way of making the landlubber feel the heat, the nervousness, and the exhilaration which were the submariner’s experience.
He shows how the pack lived, by singling out the exploits of the great skippers — Freddie Warder of the Seawolf, who sank the Sagami Maru deep in a Japanese harbor (four of his six torpedoes were defective); Morton of the Wahoo, who sighted four ships and sank all four in thirteen hours and came back to Pearl with a broom lashed to his periscope; Sam Dealey, who brought down four destroyers in five days in the waters around the main Japanese operating base; Benson of the Trigger, who tagged the Hitaka on its maiden trial trip. Humor runs through this narrative — in the dialogue before and after an attack, in the incident of the ice-cream freezer which “Stinky,” the assistant engineer, installed on the Trigger, and in Jim Coe’s dead-pan requisition for more toilet paper.
The one thing that does not come through is the claustrophobia, the panic which must have been felt with despair, as when the old Wolf, unable to make herself known, was going down under the depth charges of an American destroyer escort. This grim finality was infinitely more likely to come from foe than from friend, but men like Commander Beach did not permit their minds to dwell on it, nor does he now.

The Cape and the striper

Back in 1918 when Win Brooks was a sophomore in the Somerville High School, he turned in a composition to his English teacher. She asked him who wrote it, and was unconvinced when he replied that he did. Her skepticism rankled for days, and then Win Brooks skipped school and went to work as a copy boy for the Boston American. Today, in the best Alger tradition, he is the Managing Editor of the paper, a successful short-story writer, and a novelist whose first book, The Shining Tides (Morrow $3.50), is a Literary Guild selection.
The Shining Tides reflects Win Brooks’s love for Cape Cod. He lives on the North River at Marshfield, on that beautiful tidal stream which a century ago floated some of our swiftest clippers and up which come the schools of striped bass, a fish whose power and beauty are like the Atlantic salmon’s. Brooks has fished for stripers the length and depth of the Cape, and it was second nature for him to write this salt-water story of a little fishing village (it might be Eastham) and of the rivalry and loyalties which make it turbulent in the summer when the native Yankees, the visiting city folk, and the Portuguese fishermen are thrown together.
The characters in the order of their importance are: Father O’Meara, the fisherman-priest, who has been offered a quieter parish inland but who would rather do God’s bidding on Buzzards Bay; Cal Knight, a. veteran of the Pacific now running a Charter boat; Webb Everly, a night seiner, working the black market for bass; Jeff Maddox, the tough, seasoned Chief of the Coast Guard Station; Manuel Riba, a young Portuguese no-good who is everybody’s problem; and Roccus, a giant bass bigger than any I have seen but not too big to believe in. Women move in and out of the piclure: Mrs. Salter, who cooks dainties for the priest; Stormy Force, who has fallen foul of a Princetonian; and Clystie Harrow, the pure-hearted adventuress. They play their decorative and romantic parts to suit the mood of the story but without leaving any deep sense of conviction, at least in my mind. This is especially true of Clystie, who talks like Marlene Dietrich playing Mata Hari. The author has a tendency toward melodrama which shows itself in the fire, in the stabbing, and when Cal and Stormy are in the rip. It is the men in their less heroic moments who give the book its authenticity. The men, the Cape in its summer moods, the tidal changes of the undersea life — these are the themes Mr. Brooks writes of with zest, knowledge, and skill.

The bull’s ears

Like Tom Lea, the author of The Brave Bulls,Barnaby Conrad is a painter who can write, and he writes with the perspective and vocabulary of an artist — his imagination reaching for the most vivid detail and swatch of color. What is more, “Mister Barnaby Conrad, Niño de California” (“The California Kid" as the poster described him to patrons of the Sevilla bull ring, fought on the same program with Juan Belmonte in 1945 and was awarded the bull’s ears for his performance. He had been attracted to bullfighting on a visit to Mexico, and then during his three years in our Consular Service in Spain had learned I he fine points under the coaching of Sidney Franklin and Belmonte. His novel Matador (Houghton Mifflin, $2.75) is a tense, ringside narrative, informed with the idiom and technique, the audacity and fear, of the profession.
On a Sunday in May, Francisco Torres y Nuñez, called Pacote, “the greatest matador of his generation,”is making his farewell performance, and for killing two Miura bulls will receive the unrivaled fee of $30,000. Pacote is twenty-nine and he isn’t any longer fighting for money, since he has built up a fortune of four million; he is fighting to go down in Sevilla’s memory as the incomparable Number One. His competitor on the program, young Tnno Ruiz, has flash and courage if not his grace: the press, sardonic at Pacote’s triumphs in South America, has come to see the clean young aspirant show up the dissipated old maestro. That’s what they get and something more. For it is in the unscheduled fight against the substitute bull that the crowd sees the essential and beautiful difference between the young and the old. By now the drink has been sweated and shocked out of Pacote.
It is in these closing pages when Pacote is fighting on the handkerchief that the narrative reaches its highest point of excitement and illumination. Pacote is the protagonist, the actor we watch, but it is fat, bald “Pepe” Chaves, his little manager, wise in the ways of bulls, men, and women, who gives the story its grim humor, affection, and pity.