“Decline of Fishes” By Peter Anastas.
The view from your window matters.
Jason Makrides, the protagonist in Peter Anastas’s beautiful and thought-provoking new novel, “Decline of Fishes,” gazes upon
In a moment of solemn reverie he takes in the city’s special, endangered beauty — as lovely as it is sad. “I saw fishing vessels making into port, trailed by gulls. I saw the shining Birdseye tower and seawalls along the Boulevard holding everything in against the power of the ocean.
In “Decline of Fishes,” the last empty waterfront parcel becomes the focus of a heated citywide debate between developers and the imperiled fishing enterprise. The parcel pits those who see a proposed new mall as a way to bolster the flagging tax base against those who want to hold on to
Simply put, the book tracks the divided community’s preparations for the City Council debate up to and including their final vote on the mall’s future. Or is it
The parcel, remarkably, is smack in the middle of the fishermen’s working waterfront. Is this symbol or just good storytelling? Neither. In real life, such a parcel exists. If you take that empty lot away from
Among the key players in this story are the mall developer Win Guest, originally from
Lori Lambert follows the story for the local paper. The daughter of an abusive fisherman, she counters any possible sentimentality readers may conjure about the fishermen and their plight. Her life is a struggle still. Her marriage is on the rocks but she managed to get an education and a job at the newspaper. Still, the publisher is pro-development and the tendency is to quash findings that endanger the mall’s chances.
Among Lori’s mentors is Jimmy, the paper’s editor. Brilliant and community oriented, his days are numbered because the local paper is about to sell to outsiders. Lori’s other mentors include Jason and his friend and a fellow intellect named Frank. Nina Calogero, the president of Save Our Fishermen and a lively, articulate, committed wife of an Italian fisherman, is a natural-born organizer who makes delicious espresso and biscotti. When the battle begins to coalesce, she’s right there to help rally and organize. Allison is an attractive mother and teacher currently taking time off to raise her children. Her husband Dennis, a successful local builder in a position of power, has grown away from Allison. Allison and Jason conduct a passionate sexual liaison resulting in affection, self-examination and change.
This carefully constructed, layered book, so tightly focused in on
Anastas, author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, is also a respected expert on the works and life of the poet Charles Olson. In “Decline of Fishes” he explores, with care and precision, a number of timely themes.
First, of course, is the future of this city that’s still, by most comparisons, as unique an “island” culture as any in existence. And there is, indeed, a last undeveloped parcel that was the source of contention in the 1980s. Now its disposition is a bit more resolved, with half the property reserved for maritime use. At the current time, this vacant parcel, called I-4, C-2, is under “idea development.”
Another resonant issue is the empowerment and importance of women. Allison, Lori and her less fortunate sister, as well as the fishermen’s wives take on vibrant heartening roles via Anastas’s pen.
My own favorite theme is the deeply explored meditation on reading, writing and study. In
Writing, too, emerges as a significant theme. Jason is the writer who suffers tremendous unhappiness when he tried to merge his writing life with his family life. Unable to resolve the conflicts, he puts his writing aside.
For now, there’s enough of
The view today, though stunning and reminiscent, is not quite the same.
This review appeared in the Cape Ann Beacon, on November 17, 2010. Rae Francoeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog atfreefallrae.blogspot.com or her book, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” available online or in bookstores.