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Book Review: Fins and Grins: Searching For Balance Between the Family Life and the Fishing Life By Charles N. Cantella

    Author Charles Cantella gives a disclaimer in the prologue that this book is faction—some of it fact and some of it fiction. I would rather believe that the short stories that make up this masterpiece is perhaps more fact-based than he would let on, because more often than not the truth is stranger (and way funnier) than fiction. The reader gets the impression early on that Cantella is an average, down-to-earth guy, just like they are, and they figure out by the third page that they are in for a fun ride. He sure knows how to turn a phrase: 

    They chose that creek not so much for its trout, or its scenery (although both were abundant), but            because the creek was relatively shallow and everyone felt that we couldn’t possibly drown there and     if we did somehow manage to drown in a creek that was no more than a few feet deep, well then we        didn’t really deserve that swimming badge we’d earned at summer camp the year before, did we?       from the short story “Idiots!” 

     When this line hit me, I laughed out loud. I pulled my wife’s earbud out and read it aloud to her. It sounded like something I would say, she told me, and I agreed that I shared a similarly dark sense of humor with the author, which is why this book really appealed to me. One of my favorite stories in this collection is a two-part account of the kind of husband that would skip out on a marriage counseling session to go fishing. As a fisherman myself, I find myself rooting for this antihero, (or hero, if my wife doesn’t read this) because it is a struggle to keep balance between certain obsessions and familiar relationships, just as the title of this collection suggests. Sometimes our better natures miss the weigh in before the fight and succumb to wayward inclinations: 

    So I excused myself, with the ruse of having to use the john, Called C.S. on the cell phone and told        him to meet me at the corner near the counselors office, and that he should probably bring some            extra fishing gear, as I didn’t have any of my own with me. He didn’t ask any questions. -from the            short story “The Ex Factor.” 

     Of course not everything in this book is intended to make the reader laugh, in fact there is a deeply personal and sentimental undercurrent running through the narrative arc that these stories create. This is especially true if the reader is a fisherman, a dad, a husband, or a friend. 

    The story entitled “Uncle Dave” stirred a few emotions for me. Uncle Dave (who is actually a cousin) has been diagnosed with the C-word, and this fishing trip may very well be his last. Seeing Uncle Dave being reduced from a big, strapping guy to a man that likely wouldn’t survive another round of radiation brought a tear to this reader, as I know it did the writer. After the fishing trip and visit was over, watching Dave’s waving bye as he grew smaller and smaller in the rearview as the author drove away brought back a few memories of what ended up being the last time with some of my own loved ones. That feeling will resonate with any reader who has ever had to say goodbye.

     As a guy who has to juggle so many responsibilities with work and family and still trying to carve out time to hit the water, I appreciate the fact that this book can be read in one afternoon, and you can lay it down and pick it back up later and never miss a beat (that is, if you can lay it down—I couldn’t). And the quality of the writing and the stories contained in this book will appeal to anyone, whether they are interested in fly fishing or not. In the prologue, Charles Cantella tells his readers that if it’s deeply meaningful reading that they are looking for, he urges them to try another book. Maybe so, but for someone like me, who, in his words, struggles to carve out time to go fishing, it definitely means a lot.

    You can find Charles' book here: Fins and Grins


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