Cynthia James's Reviews > Big Fish

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace
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really liked it
bookshelves: modern-fiction
Read 2 times. Last read June 4, 2021.

I watched the Tim Burton's movie at home with my brother a long time ago, when I was still a college student. My brother got all moved because he said the movie reminded him of my father. Tall tales, endless daddy jokes, the absence, the infidelity, the difficulties to connect.

I don't remember the movie that much, and can't decide if it makes a big impression on me, but I do like this book. Reading it you'll realise that it's almost plotless, and apart from Edward Bloom, no one else in the story develop that much. But these are not the novel's strength. The magic, to me, lies in the writer's ability to lure readers into the wonders of the tall tales and the myths and the half-truths, and in the mental journey of deciding which stories to believe and which way they should be interpreted.

William, Edward Bloom's son, is telling a story about his dying father - reminiscing about his life from childhood to present, as it had been told to him, and as he remembers it. Edward wants to be a great man and thinks of himself as a great man. This is evident through the tall tales he told about himself, how "nobody doesn't love him" (David Wallace seems to be fond of double negatives like that), how even animals succumbed to his "fabled charm," how he had saved the lives of so many people (including a mythic creature such as a half-fish river lady), and by whom he was occasionally saved in return.

The whole novel is about the life of one man told in a series of parables and metaphors. If we can sift through the myths and fables, the emerging image is that of a man from a poor background who came from a small town where the dwellers are often stuck in a humdrum of a world without dreams and ambitions, but this man rebels and breaks away, pursues his dreams and makes a successful and decent life for himself. He marries a girl he likes and who likes him (though not without a fight), is blessed with a son whom he dotes on. He becomes wealthy, and very busy. He's on the move all the time - because of his business, and also because he's having an affair with a young lady somewhere. He returns home when the young lady breaks off with him, and stays home for a long time after being diagnosed with a terminal disease that eventually leads to the end of his mythical "immortality."

Because these stories are told from the perspective of William the son, we can catch a glimpse of how this son perceives his father. He clearly adores his father. He looks up to him. He thinks he's strong and handsome. He used to love his jokes and stories, but over time he becomes tired of them, especially when he realises that his dad is using the jokes and stories to evade serious conversations. He wishes for more chance to get to know his father, to create a closer bond with him. He's mad about him being absent all the time.

Despite his anger and frustrations, William still clearly loves his father so much. He's careful about how he wants to tell the story of his father's death. oscillating between the desire to express his frustrations and to preserve his father's image of himself as a "great man." William has to tell the death-bed story in four "takes", each reflecting in gradually exaggerated and more dramatic manner the reality of his relationship with Edward. But the one he finally settles on is the one which ends with his father not dying, just transforming into the "big fish in a big pond" he always aspires to be.

I'm still not certain if I can relate the character of Edward Bloom to my father just like my brother has been able to, but I can sure see myself in Edward Bloom. In fact, if we want to be brutally honest, I think Edward Bloom represents all of us. Edward wants to be a great man - don't we all? And I'm not just referring to the desires to be successful, or to make a name for ourselves. I guess everyone wants to be remembered in a certain way when one dies and leaves the world. Everyone wants to have a legacy. Everyone wants to do something good that people can remember forever. We all want our stories to live on beyond our lives on earth.

At the end of the day, it matters not if Edward Bloom is indeed a big fish in a big pond. All that matter is that he at least is, in the eyes of his son.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 3, 2021 – Shelved
June 3, 2021 – Shelved as: modern-fiction
Started Reading
June 4, 2021 – Finished Reading

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