Peter Markus is the author of Good, Brother (AWOL Press / reissued by Calamari Press), Bob, Or Man On Boat and We Make Mud (Dzanc Books), The Moon is a Lighthouse (New Michigan Press), and The Singing Fish (Calamari Press).
"In Bob, or Man on Boat, Peter Markus creates an obsessive (and obsessively rendered) song about a man, a boat, and a fish—a contemporary retelling of Moby Dick."
"Peter Markus, who wrote of brotherhood with rare wisdom and purity of style in the linked stories of The Singing Fish, now trains his extraordinary powers on the heartaching relationship between fathers and sons with even more enchanting results. Bob, or Man on Boat is a marvel of thrillingly limpid prose—a profound and unforgettable first novel."
"Markus has a remarkable ability to strip life down to its basics, to the point where the metaphors we manufacture as the looking-glass for our existence end up standing in for existence itself. Fish, mud, night and river come to stand in place of family connections as fathers and sons, by giving themselves to fishing, give themselves over to a lone search and to loss."
I’m usually late getting to books, because I have this dramatic assumption that books are responsible for finding you. I might have stolen this idea from the Lester Bangs of Almost Famous rather than the Lester Bangs who I used to want to be. I didn’t like Almost Famous but at the time it came out I wrote music reviews and interviewed bands for the now defunct Salt for Slugs, and I would read old reviews by Bangs and Hunter Thompson, in the hopes that, I don’t know, I could grow up to be somebody.
Yesterday I read Peter Markus’ Bob, or Man on Boat. It’s as thin as the skin of a blister, and as warm as cigarette’s cherry. It’s a fish tale. Moby Dick is referenced -- “Call me Bob” -- there’s a fish who should be caught. There are relationships that pulse and jangle, bob as though on the water.
I’ve never read the word Bob so many times, and not got offended. It’s a peaceful name to me now.
There’s a scene in Great Expectations where Pip discovers Joe can’t read. That, while Joe often sits by the fire with a book, he is merely finding the letters of his own name. If there is a Bob out there, with a similar condition, this book is assuredly for him.
But there is a greater quality to this work than this. A repetition fantastic. A rose is a rose is a rose. A fish is a fish is a fish.
Markus’ story telling is elegantly out of focus. The aperture of his imagination is wide. The characters in the scene are seen, but all else on the perimeter is blur. This is unique for a story that takes place outside.
The river is a river. It’s not a ribbon of wet green slung between to hills as though a length of rope dangling from the branches of a tree.
The fish is a fish. It is not a shiny fleck of flesh beneath the surface of the choppy water, smiling mildly with the flash of sun.
Or some shit.
There is an agenda: to catch a fish.
There is a complication beyond that: families buckle beneath the strain of addiction to river.
After that, there are lovely muted hues. Blues and greens, yet somehow piquant with emotion.
The story stretches on beyond the 133 pages. The conclusion is in absentia.
What is it then?
A fish tale, where the fish is not gutted.
A story about two men on one river hunting to find a thing they know they’d only throw back.
So what are the 133 pages: a fish on a boat, naked in the absence of water, its gills fumbling for something to breathe, its eyes wild with fear.
But nothing is greater than almost dying. And while Markus might not produce a carcass with this thin novel -- or a trophy well mounted -- he allows us to catch and release the moments in our own way. He gives us a story to hold.