Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions

by Daniel Wallace


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616201647
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 05/15/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 196
Sales rank: 63,253
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About 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.

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.

Table of Contents

Part I

The Day He Was Born

In Which He Speaks to Animals

The Year it Snowed in Alabama

His Great Promise

My Father's Death: Take 1

The Girl in the River

His Quiet Charm

How He Tamed the Giant

In Which He Goes Fishing

The Day He Left Ashland

Entering a New World

Part II

The Old Lady and the Eye

My Father's Death: Take 2

His First Great Love

His Legendary Legs

In Which He Makes a Move

The Fight

On Meeting the In-Laws

His Three Labors

He Goes to War

My Father's Death: Take 3

The Day I Was Born

How He Saw Me

How He Saved My Life

His Immortality

His Greatest Power

In Which He Has a Dream

Part III

In Which He Buys a Town, and More

How it Ends

My Father's Death: Take 4

Big Fish

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.

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Big Fish (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 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.
amerynth on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I picked up Daniel Wallace's "Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions" because I thought the movie was stellar. It had an amazing arc to the story (and when we saw it, I said to my husband that if I was a screenwriter, that is the kind of story I'd want to tell.)Sadly, this was one of the few cases where the movie was just plain better than the book.The stories are similar -- it's a book about the death of Edward Bloom; a man that his only son really never knew. Edward Bloom cracks jokes and tells stories much to the chagrin of his son, who is waiting to know his father, or at least hear some kind fatherly words before it is too late. The stories in the book weren't quite as mythical as in the movie -- the characters just don't shine as bright. The book lacks that beautiful story arc that pulls everything together in the end. It's an okay story that is a quick read, but not one that I'll ever pick up again.
JDionne on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I loved the movie, so I looked forward to reading the book. I found this to be one of the rare occurrences where I liked the movie better (by leaps and bounds). I had to give the book one star since it is the source material. So little of what I loved about the film was in the book.
libmhleigh on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I had seen and enjoyed the movie Big Fish, for its sheer quirkiness if nothing else, which is how I came to pick up this book. Although I liked the book overall, the stories were choppy instead of woven together, and I had to force myself to keep picking the book up to finish instead of moving on to something else. I might feel differently had I not seen th movie first, but, alas, too late for that.
stephmo on LibraryThing 7 months ago
William Bloom's father, Edward Bloom has always been bigger than life. At least that's how the legends of Edward Bloom's depictions of saving lives, saving towns, being a great lover of animals, friend to all who knew him and great visionary as well as reputation of joke-teller extraordinaire would have everyone believe. The truth is that William doesn't know Edward very well and now that his end is near, there's little time to fix this. This is the story of Big Fish - a father who tells stories of his life in an effort to get to know, reconcile and say goodbye all at the same time.Big Fish is a quick and unencumbered read. Edward's stories are fantastic, running the gambit from suspense to romance to action and are often found with a heavy dose of humor. At the same time, the tale does pause for the reality of a family losing a patriarch that may not have always been perfect from an insider view, but at the end is clearly loved by his family. This is an excellent light weekend read.
phoebesmum on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I read this straight after I¿d seen the movie. It is, of course (as always), completely different. Less sentimental, but more affecting, it¿s almost like a love song to his (one assumes late) father. Not a theme with which I can really sympathise.
cestovatela on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Edward Bloom is terrified of intimacy and so he tells jokes and tall tales. When that's not enough, he travels across the world, earning money but alienating his family. Big Fish is both a compendium of the stories Edward tells and his son William's attempt to make sense of his dying father's life. It's a great premise that Wallace ultimately doesn't write in an interesting way. Edward's stories are mostly retreads of American folklore. His moments with William are sometimes very touching, but there aren't very many of these in the book. Mostly it's just the story of a little boy with a distant father and although that's sad, it's too ordinary a story to make an interesting novel.
prettypinkpony2 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I thought the jokes and stories he made were funny, I couldn't put down the book
emib on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I think I didn't enjoy this book very much because i saw the movie before i read the book. I thought the characters were more interesting in the movie than the book. However if you do want to read it I suggest you read the book before you see the movie.
Bridgey on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I saw the film and couldn't wait to read the book... rushed out, bought it, ran a bath..... Started reading and was instantly disapointed with lack of energy in the book that the film was full of. It just seemed totally disjointed, chapters barely a page long, very repetitive and at times depressing. This is the only book where I have enjoyed the film more. After reading about his fathers death, for the 3rd time, I really couldn't wait for the final chapter. Not one part of the book seemed to flow into the next, it is more like a series of childish short stories trying to cover a more meaningful and deep theme. Unfortunately it fails miserably. If you enjoyed the film, leave the book alone. If you fancy the book, watch the film instead.
extrajoker on LibraryThing 8 months ago
first line: "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."I have a hard time separating this book from the movie adaptation, which I saw first, so that strongly colors my review. I enjoyed the book, though this is one of those rare cases in which I'm fonder of the movie. Granted, I'm a sucker for Tim Burton's aesthetic. But it's more than that.The book left me a little cold...possibly because I found the written Ed Bloom less charming...less sympathetic...than the one on the screen; the movie focuses more on the mythologized man, while the book insists on showing you the man behind the curtain. And while I guess that makes for better literature, I have to admit to missing that magic.
EmScape on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Wow, they really amped up the fantastical nature of this story for the movie, didn't they? Granted, it's been a while since I've seen it, but I remembered something a little harder to believe and a little less mundane. The only two instances that seemed familiar were Edward's encounter with the "giant" and meeting the two-headed woman. Otherwise, this mostly sad and philosophical tale focuses more about Edward's relationship with his son, our narrator. The question is still whether Edward's stories are made up, but an extra level is added, seemingly implying the stories might have been made up by William, the son, instead. Still, an interesting meditation on the relationship between father and son, both of which would like for the son to see the father as larger-than-life, a Great man, a Big Fish.
Chuck37 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Worst ending ever, but I loved the story and the imagery that led up to it. Lovely wording.
jlparent on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The son is relating tales of his dying father, trying to understand the man through them. But his father never discussed anything solid/real directly - he relayed everything into jokes, anecdotes, tall tales. I was hooked early and hard by this bit in the first "chapter":---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 of 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.---Never seen the movie and likely won't as books are generally better; especially because I doubt how this would translate. It's written like vignettes or episodes, which - for me - made it so hard to put down. Each scenario was powerful, I laughed, cried, cringed...been awhile since a book really zinged me. Highly recommended.
JosephJ on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A definite case of the movie being better than the book. That being said, the book reads like a series of myths one might find in a folk tale collection. As far literature goes, this book lacks a really concrete character arc. The reader has the sense that William (the son) is telling the stories about his father, but we never get too close to what William is either feeling or believes to be true himself. While not an over all great read, it does have its moments and is a very easy read.
bcquinnsmom on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I liked this book. Small as it is, there's a lot there between the covers.Big Fish is a quiet little book, not so much a novel as a series of small vignettes about the life of one Edward Bloom, who is now dying. Edward was one of those people for whom a day-to-day life with his family just wasn't enough, so he ended up missing a lot of his son William's life. As he's laying there dying, William begs to know more about his father, but Edward, who is the king of the one-liners, answers his son's questions with more jokes and reminisces of life before William came along. The book is William's way of trying to know and understand his father -- it is William's construction of Edward's life based on Edward's often over-the-top stories.Edward's tall tales are like a sign pointing William in a general direction toward the truth of his father's life: no matter what situation Edward found himself in, it was always important to him to be the big fish in the small pond. Edward notes that he always wanted to be a great man, and that he always felt it was his destiny to be so. William's reconstruction, which in many ways mythologizes Edward, is his attempt at making his absent father the great man he always wanted to be, even though William feels that a great man is someone of whom it could be said that he was loved by his son. The "myths" William creates about his father in this book are a step toward not only William being able to connect at some level with Edward before he dies, but are also William's way of loving his father as best he can.Big Fish is a small book, but read it slowly because there is a lot to uncover here.A note about the Tim Burton film: the movie picks up these little vignettes and expands them into fuller stories, and is a joy to watch as well as a full-fledged tear jerker at times. If you haven't seen the movie, read the book first so you get more into William's head.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Winters93 More than 1 year ago
Witty and poignant, mythic and timely.