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Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions

4.1 35
by Daniel Wallace

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In his prime, Edward Bloom was an extraordinary man. He could outrun anybody. He never missed a day of school. He saved lives and tamed giants. Animals loved him, people loved him, women loved him. He knew more jokes than any man alive. At least that’s what he told his son, William. But now Edward Bloom is dying, and William wants desperately to know the


In his prime, Edward Bloom was an extraordinary man. He could outrun anybody. He never missed a day of school. He saved lives and tamed giants. Animals loved him, people loved him, women loved him. He knew more jokes than any man alive. At least that’s what he told his son, William. But now Edward Bloom is dying, and William wants desperately to know the truth about his elusive father—this indefatigable teller of tall tales—before it’s too late. So, using the few facts he knows, William re-creates Edward’s life in a series of legends and myths, through which he begins to understand his father’s great feats, and his great failings. The result is hilarious and wrenching, tender and outrageous.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A charming whopper of a tale.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Both comic and poignant.” —The New York Times“Refreshing, original . . . Wallace mixes the mundane and the mythical. His chapters have the transformative quality of fable and fairy tale.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A comic novel about death, about the mysteries of parents and the redemptive power of storytelling.” —USA Today

“An audacious, highly original debut novel . . . An imaginative, and moving, record of a son’s love for a charming, unknowable father.” —Kirkus Reviews

James Polk
In this first novel, Daniel Wallace...adds legends and folk tales from the Southern backwoods, throws in a smattering of Greek myth and attaches a few of his own inventions. Applying all of these...resulted in a story that is both comic and poignant. -- New York Times Book Review
As long as sons have fathers, deciphering what’s not said between them will remain a boy’s most important rite of passage to adulthood. William, the gently cynical narrator of Wallace’s wonderful and elegant first novel, completes this rite by mythologizing his father, Edward Bloom, after his death.
Each chapter relates a self-contained story about Edward, fashioned from the jokes, tall tales and allegories William heard his father tell about himself over the years. Beginning with a miraculous birth in rural Alabama and proceeding through romantic encounters, tests of prowess, a few less-than-Herculean labors and, yes, a big fish story, we learn the general outlines of Edward’s life: He was a small-town boy who became an extremely successful business man and modestly successful family man.
As the novel progresses, so does William’s understanding of all the cock-and-bull stories. This change is the book’s most impressive feature. Rather than throwing the reader a sentimental epiphany, Wallace manipulates the narratorial voice with masterly finesse and sensitivity to render a motionless, quiet transformation in William. Wallace delivers handsomely with a wise story that is a delight to read.
—Dan Koenig
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
'People mess things up, forget and remember all the wrong things. What's left is fiction,' writes Wallace in his refreshing, original debut, which ignores the conventional retelling of the events and minutiae of a life and gets right to the poetry of a son's feelings for and memories of his father. William Bloom's father, Edward, is dying. He dies in fact in four different takes, all of which have William and his mother waiting outside a bedroom door as the family doctor tells them it's time to say their goodbyes. He intersperses the four takes with stories (all filtered through William's mind and voice) about the elusive Edward, who spent long periods of time on the road away from home and admitted once to his son that he had yearned to be a great man. The father and son deathbed conversations have son William playing earnest straight man, while his father is full of witticisms and jokes. In a plainspoken style dotted with transcendent passages, Wallace mixes the mundane and the mythical. His chapters have the transformative quality of fable and fairy tale, and the novel's roomy structure allows the mystery and lyricism of the story to coalesce.
Kirkus Reviews
An audacious, highly original debut novel, in which a son attempts to resolve the mysteries surrounding his father by re-creating the man's life as a series of exuberant tall tales. Edward Bloom has grown wealthy running his own import/export business. Restlessly wandering the world, he has returned home to see his wife and son only at rare, unpredictable intervals. Now, however, he's come home to die, and William is desperate to understand something of his father's life and character before he vanishes. But his father, an incorrigible jokester, deflects all of his son's queries with one-liners. A baffled William, waiting for the end, begins to create a series of tall tales in which his enigmatic parent is remade as a paradigmatic American folk hero. Growing up in Alabama as a 'strong quiet boy, with a mind of his own,' this mythic version of Edward has an affinity with wild animals and the uncanny. He reads every book in town, tames a lonely giant who has taken to eating the locals' crops and dogs, and hitches a ride on a giant catfish. As a young man he saves a child from an unearthly dog, rescues a lovely water spirit, and returns an enchanted eye to its rightful owner. As a wealthy older man he preserves a small southern town from the rancorous present by becoming its feudal lord. William narrates these stories in a language that nicely mixes the simplicity and tang of the folk tale with a droll, knowing sense of humor. All the episodes seem infused with a defiant, despairing love; in the end, the dying Edward outwits death by transforming himself into (literally) a 'big fish,' which his son returns to its ancestral waters. More a series of ingenious sketches than a cohesive novel,but, still, a vigorous updating of the purely American genre of the tall taleþas well as an imaginative, and moving, record of a son's love for a charming, unknowable father.

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

                    One of our last car trips, near the end of my father's life as a man, we stopped by a river, and we took a walk to its banks, where we sat in the shade of an old oak tree.

    After a couple of minutes my father took off his shoes and his socks and placed his feet in the clear-running water, and he looked at them there. Then he closed his eyes and smiled. I hadn't seen him smile like that in a while.

    Suddenly he took a deep breath and said, "This reminds me."

    And then he stopped, and thought some more. Things came slow for him then if they ever came at all, and I guessed he was thinking of some joke to tell, because he always had some joke to tell. Or he might tell me a story that would celebrate his adventurous and heroic life. And I wondered, What does this remind him of? Does it remind him of the duck in the hardware store? The horse in the bar? The boy who was knee-high to a grasshopper? Did it remind him of the dinosaur egg he found one day, then lost, or the country he once ruled for the better part of a week?

    "This reminds me," he said, "of when I was a boy."

    I looked at this old man, my old man with his old white feet in this clear-running stream, these moments among the very last in his life, and I thought of him suddenly, and simply, as a boy, a child, a youth, with his whole life ahead of him, much as mine was ahead of me. I'd never done that before. And these images--the now and then of my father--converged, and at that moment he turned into a weird creature, wild, concurrently young and old, dying and newborn.

    My father became a myth.


The Day He Was Born

He was born during the driest summer in forty years. The sun baked the fine red Alabama clay to a grainy dust, and there was no water for miles. Food was scarce, too. No corn or tomatoes or even squash that summer, all of it withered beneath the hazy white sky. Everything died, seemed like: chickens first, then cats, then pigs, and then dogs. Went into the stew, though, the lot, bones and all.

    One man went crazy, ate rocks, and died. It took ten men to carry him to his grave he was so heavy, ten more to dig it, it was so dry.

    Looking east people said, Remember that rolling river?

    Looking west, Remember Talbert's Pond?

    The day he was born began as just another day. The sun rose, peered down on the little wooden house where a wife, her belly as big as the country, scrambled up the last egg they had for her husband's breakfast. The husband was already out in the field, turning the dust with his plow round the black and twisted roots of some mysterious vegetable. The sun shone hard and bright. When he came in for his egg he wiped the sweat from his brow with a ragged blue bandanna. Then he wrung the sweat from it and let it drip into an old tin cup. For something to drink, later on.

    The day he was born the wife's heart stopped, briefly, and she died. Then she came back to life. She'd seen her self suspended above herself. She saw her son, too--said he glowed. When her self rejoined with herself she said she felt a warmth there.

    Said, "Soon. He'll be here soon."

    She was right.

    The day he was born someone spotted a cloud over thataway, with something of a darkness to it. People gathered to watch. One, two, two times two, suddenly fifty people and more, all looking skyward, at this rather small cloud moving close to their parched and frazzled home place. The husband came out to look, too. And there it was: a cloud. First real cloud in weeks.

    The only person in that whole town not cloud-watching was the wife. She had fallen to the floor, breathless with pain. So breathless she couldn't scream. She thought she was screaming--she had her mouth open that way--but nothing was coming out. Of her mouth. Elsewhere, though, she was busy. With him. He was coming. And where was her husband?

    Out looking at a cloud.

    That was some cloud, too. Not small at all, really, a respectable cloud, looming large and gray over all the dried-up acres. The husband took off his hat and squinted, taking a step down off the porch for a better look.

    The cloud brought a little wind with it, too. It felt good. A little wind brushing gently across their faces felt good. And then the husband heard thunder--boom!--or so he thought. But what he heard was his wife kicking over a table with her legs. Sure sounded like thunder, though. That's what it sounded like.

    He took a step farther out into the field.

    "Husband!" his wife screamed then at the top of her lungs. But it was too late. Husband was too far gone and couldn't hear. He couldn't hear a thing.

    The day he was born all the people of the town gathered in the field outside his house, watching the cloud. Small at first, then merely respectable, the cloud soon turned huge, whale-size at least, churning strikes of white light within it and suddenly breaking and burning the tops of pine trees and worrying some of the taller men out there; watching, they slouched, and waited.

    The day he was born things changed.

    Husband became Father, Wife became Mom.

    The day Edward Bloom was born, it rained.

In Which He Speaks to Animals

My father had a way with animals, everybody said so. When he was a boy, raccoons ate out of his hand. Birds perched on his shoulder as he helped his own father in the field. One night, a bear slept on the ground outside his window, and why? He knew the animals' special language. He had that quality.

    Cows and horses took a peculiar liking to him as well. Followed him around et cetera. Rubbed their big brown noses against his shoulder and snorted, as if to say something specially to him.

    A chicken once sat in my father's lap and laid an egg there--a little brown one. Never seen anything like it, nobody had.

The Year It Snowed in Alabama

It never snowed in Alabama and yet it snowed the winter my father was nine. It came down in successive white sheets, hardening as it fell, eventually covering the landscape in pure ice, impossible to dig out of. Caught below the snowy tempest you were doomed; above it, you merely had time to consider your doom.

    Edward was a strong, quiet boy with a mind of his own, but not one to talk back to his father when a chore needed doing, a fence mended, a stray heifer lured back home. As the snow started falling that Saturday evening and on into the next morning, Edward and his father first built snowmen and snow towns and various other constructions, realizing only later that day the immensity and danger of the unabating snowfall. But it's said that my father's snowman was a full sixteen feet tall. In order to reach that height, he had engineered a device made out of pine branches and pulleys, with which he was able to move up and down at will. The snowman's eyes were made out of old wagon wheels, abandoned for years; its nose was the top of a grain silo; and its mouth--in a half-smile, as if the snowman were thinking of something warm and humorous--was the bark cut from the side of an oak tree.

    His mother was inside cooking. Smoke rose from the chimney in streams of gray and white, curling into the sky. She heard a distant picking and scraping outside the door, but was too busy to pay it much mind. Didn't even look up when her husband and son came in, a half hour later, sweating in the cold.

    "We've got ourselves a situation," her husband said.

    "Well," she said, "tell me about it."

    Meanwhile, the Snow continued to fall and the door they'd just dug through to was nearly blocked again. His father took the shovel and cleared a passage again.

    Edward watched--Father shovel, snow fall, Father shovel, snow fall--until the roof of the cabin itself started creaking. His mother found that a snowdrift had formed in their bedroom. They reckoned it was time they got out.

    But where to? All the living world was ice now, pure white and frozen. His mother packed up the food she'd been cooking and gathered together some blankets.

    They spent that night in the trees.

    The next morning was a Monday. The snow stopped, the sun rose. The temperature hovered below zero.

    Mother said, "About time you got off to school, isn't it Edward?"

    "I guess it is," he said, no questions asked. Which is just the kind of boy he was.

    After breakfast he climbed down from the tree and walked the six miles to the little schoolhouse. Saw a man frozen in a block of ice on the way there. About froze himself, too--didn't, though. He made it. He was a couple of minutes early, in fact.

    And there was his schoolmaster, sitting on a wood pile, reading. All he could see of the schoolhouse was the weather vane, the rest of it buried beneath the weekend's snowfall.

    "Morning, Edward," he said.

    "Morning," Edward said.

    And then he remembered: he'd forgotten his homework.

    Went back home to get it.

    True story.

His Great Promise

They say he never forgot a name or a face or your favorite color, and that by his twelfth year he knew everybody in his home town by the sound their shoes made when they walked.

    They say he grew so tall so quickly that for a time--months? the better part of a year?--he was confined to his bed because the calcification of his bones could not keep up with his height's ambition, so that when he tried to stand he was like a dangling vine and would fall to the floor in a heap.

    Edward Bloom used his time wisely, reading. He read almost every book there was in Ashland. A thousand books--some say ten thousand. History, Art, Philosophy. Horatio Alger. It didn't matter. He read them all. Even the telephone book.

    They say that eventually he knew more than anybody, even Mr. Pinkwater, the librarian.

    He was a big fish, even then.

What People are Saying About This

Lee Smith
I have a feeling that Big Fish is going to make a very big splash! -- Author of News of the Spirit
Winston Groom
A talented and fascinating writer. Daniel Wallace has created a jewel in Big Fish.

Meet the Author

Daniel Wallace has published stories in numerous magazines, including Story, Glimmer Train, Prairie Schooner, and Shenandoah. His first novel, Big Fish, was translated into German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese. Raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Daniel Wallace now lives with his son, Henry, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he also works as an illustrator.

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Big Fish (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Big Fish is a nice, short book. I laughed, cried, and read this book more than twice! This would be a good book for you if you like myths or tall tales.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really is a modern day fairy tale. It is interesting, funny and exciting and I love it. Can't wait to see the movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one sitting. It is the wonderful retelling of a man's life through his son's eyes that leaves you feeling as if you were part of the storytelling too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book puts a smile on yor face. It is a look into a life that may not have existed. A son sorting over his fathers 'life' in seach of some sort of truth.
livelongandprosper More than 1 year ago
The story, Big Fish, written by Daniel Wallace is a book that will inspire people and make them realize why life is worth living. It is a novel for readers of all ages, and it will make you think of all sorts of things that could happen in your life. It begins with a young child named William who is suffering because his father, Edward Bloom, is dying. William is upset that his dad never shared much about his personal interests and religious beliefs, and William really didn't get to know him. So while his dad is in the hospital bed, he starts sharing his life with his son. He tells him about what it was like living in a small town called Ashland until he bought the whole town of Specter. All these stories are told chronologically through the eyes of William. Some other things that Edward shared include his love for the most popular girl in school, various jobs he had, and how he predicted the deaths of many people. It is entertaining to learn that all these stories were told seriously, and in the hospital Edward shares nothing but jokes with his kid. Everybody loved Edward Bloom. One time, Edward shared with William how he saw himself dying. He said that there would be hundreds of people outside his house, all wishing him the best, and this really did occur. There were hundreds of people hoping for the best for Edward. Each and every person had their own stories with Edward Bloom and themselves. Edward helped people with all sorts of problems. Something peculiar that occurs in every scene that happens inside the hospital, is that Edward always asked for water though he wasn't thirsty. The ending of the book makes you think about your life and the relationship you have with your family. I would recommend this book to all readers who enjoy myths and fairytales. This is a type of book that grabs your attention with all the things that occur in Edward Bloom's life. If you enjoy the type of book that flow through people's lives or are some how sentimental then this is the book for you. What I like about this book is that it is a simple book to read. Daniel Wallace uses really simple words that make reading the book very easy. It also has clear ideas that don't make you think beyond the plot of the story. I enjoyed this book because of its chronological way of organizing the events of Edward's life. This helps the reader concentrate on what is occurring while reading and not having to go back to make connections or think outside of what the text says. While reading this book I could make connections to my personal life. For example, it made me think about the relationship I have with my dad. I can put myself in William shoes and say that I really don't know about my dad's childhood. If you are looking for a book full of truth, death and life, then Big Fish is definitely a book you must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This delightful novel made me laugh and touched my heart. It truly showed the effect one generation can have on another and how understanding is achieved with time. There are great lessons to be learned here.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book would be so good that it would just blow me away, I loved the movie but I didn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is full of tall tales ranging from telepathy to mermaids, of which revolve around one man, Edward Bloom the man of myth and joke one of the greatest men who ever lived. However, he has one flaw. Edward does not let people know him. He tells stories to people to make him self seem larger than life, even to his own son, William. On his deathbed, his son visits to try to know him. The novel is for a reader who enjoys fantasy and myth, but whoever reads this should keep in mind that this book is not full of dragons and golden fleeces. The setting is more modern than most fantasy novels, but still has a greatness and mystique as the ancient myths of Greece. This novel is also great because it is more of a collection of short stories. This is good for the lazy reader - one who often gets bored, can easily be hooked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you had to choose a quote of 2 lines in this books and memorize them, what will they be?
BookReviewersClub More than 1 year ago
This review is from Dean Goranites of the BookReviewersClub on the book "Big Fish" by Daniel Wallace. This book is a collection of short stories. The majority of the book is a tribute to the father with grand stories of mythic proportions. All in all, the story focuses on a man's father right after the father died. This man sees his father as a hero and shows this through the short stories he hears about his father from before he died. Dean felt that the book has a brilliant writing style and an intriguing story. Anyone who reads it will see truth, care, love and dedication with every word. This is not a story of a man who had high aspirations to be an amazing writer, but a story of a son who loves his father. That's why Dean felt the book was so touching and that there was a real soul in the story. Dean gave this book 5 stars because he felt this book is definitely worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like the movie you'll like the book.
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I recommend this book, Its a bit off-beat at first but the author really reels you end eventually. I couldn't put It down, the events, plot, and overall how the book is written is extremely interesting. Its great!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was very good but i could not follow the plot of the book. If you've seen the movie before you read then book than you will have no problems keeping up with the story line, but with me i had a lot of trouble keeping up with it because of the flashbacks the boys father kept having about when he was younger and healthier. Also the fact that they kept repeating themselves everytime they went back to his fathers death. other than that the book was really good and i cant wait to watch the movie.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Big Fish was a refreshing and original novel by Daniel Wallace. It really described the relationship between father and son in a way I never thought of before. Each chapter carries a new adventure while still following a clear path. It was a pretty quick read, but it was still highly satisfying and fun to read. Wallace has a unique style of writing that ties everything together to his central theme. I would recommend Big Fish to almost anyone because it has something that every age group can enjoy.