“Remembering a man’s stories makes him immortal.” Daniel Wallace explores this resonating philosophy in his book Big Fish.
This novel is written as a son’s good-bye to his dying father, a father the son wishes he knew better. In recording his father’s memoirs, the son,William, comes to terms with the emotional distance in their relationship.
The stories of Edward Blooms’ life aren’t normal recollections. They are tall tales. Edward Bloom is painted as a hero, a big fish in a small pond. He tells his son about facing giants, surviving shipwreck, and even bringing the rain.
Wallace approaches this book more as a collection of short stories than as a novel. He captures the essence of southern charm and a sweet humor, with tales reminiscent of old men’s fishing stories; the type of tales that don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
“History becomes what never happened. People mess things up, forget and remember all the wrong things. What’s left is fiction” – Page 158
In one chapter, Wallace creates a town where the people never leave. They continue in their day-to- day lives without noticing they are stuck, without even realizing that they have given up on their past ambitions. He creates a striking metaphor for the life that so many people get caught up in.
Throughout the book, Edward Bloom is portrayed as a legend. He’s depicted as a hero of mythological proportions, very similar to the image that a small child has of their parents. But here, Wallace explores another realism. William is forced, because of the realities of sickness and death, to abandon this childlike perspective of his father. This excerpt captures William coming to this realization:
“Edward Bloom! Who would have thought! Man of the world! Importer/exporter! We all thought you’d live forever. Though the rest of us fall like leaves from a tree, if there was one to withstand the hard winter ahead and hang on for dear life we thought it would be you.” – Page 107
William’s revelation here is one that we all must face. Our heroes are mortal.
While he explores deep concepts, Wallace still manages to keep the mood of his writing light and uplifting. This book reads much like a fairy tale and I found myself laughing all the way through.
Wallace is a master of spinning stories. His writing is captivating and charming. He created tales you could read around a camp fire or as a bedtime story. But his images and metaphors go much deeper than a nursery rhyme. His words gently nudge you to contemplate your own mortality.
Big Fish made me think of the ancestors I’ve never met;. the ones I only know through family stories. When we die, what’s left behind for those who love us is our stories. So, like Edward Bloom, let’s live a life worth retelling.