Globe and Mail Review of Fishing with John
Review Grade: A
Above the U.S. border near Seattle, the Canadian Pacific coast reaches northward along a jagged, 500-mile fringe of mountains, forests, fjords and islands. The water is cold and often wild; the winds strong enough to blow a lighthouse into the sea. Beyond the towns, it is a world inhabited mostly by fish and wildlife, with a scattering of hardy people-fishermen and loggers, men who "eat and drink like Henry VIII," couples who enjoy the company of wolves, women who carry hunting knives. Hardly a natural habitat for a sophisticated New York writer of late middle age, a longtime contributor to the New Yorker magazine. Edith Iglauer had been accustomed to a citified existence drenched in comfort and culture until she turned her life upside down. In 1974 she fell in love, married John Daly, an erudite and poetic 61-year-old salmon fisherman, and moved aboard his boat, the MoreKelp.
"I had the idea that from time to time we would go into charming little seaports like the ones I had seen at Cape Cod," Iglauer writes "and step out for dinner to the small, chic kind of restaurant one finds in summer along the Eastern seaboard of the United States." She brought along a low-necked dinner gown for such evenings, but instead found herself clambering up ladders over oily black pilings just to get ashore at the fish-plant docks in towns where her husband occasionally took her to a Chinese eatery.
Fishing With John is a moving memoir of the years she and Daly spent aboard his 41-foot troller ("the single most uncomfortable fishing boat in British Columbia"). It is a touching book, yet totally unsentimental, and a fine job of reporting - on a little-known part of North America and its beauties, on a harsh but wholesome way of life, on the joys of a late marriage, but mostly on the complex, endless labors of commercial fishing. Here and there it reads like one of Iglauer's New Yorker pieces, as conversations with her husband turn into interviews on sea lore.
Edith Iglauer spent her first trip concentrating on not falling overboard. "For God's sake, can't you stop rocking even for a moment and stand still?" she yelled at the boat one morning, and her husband remarked: "Good, good. You'll make an excellent fishwife."
And so she did. She came to love the MoreKelp and understand her husband's fascination with fish. "We trollers are the true water gypsies," he told her. "I have my mountains around me, the water, this boat. I have the sun, the wind, the stars, and the marvelous changes . . . could anything be better?"
Daly fished from 12 to 14 hours a day, rain or shine (the lack of sleep and the hours of standing in a cockpit, working hard, make heart attacks common among fishermen). Iglauer was deckhand and cook and scribe, propped on a bunk with her typewriter, wedged against a dishpan for support.
"When you attain the oneness I have with the sea and the mountains, and the B.C. Coast," Daly once had written to her, "you can face anything, and alone, if you have to. This will be my hoped for gift to you." And a timely gift it was, for in 1978 her husband died, and today she lives alone in the home John Daly fitted out for life ashore.
-David Lancashire, Globe and Mail
Fish Tale Turned into Love Story for Author, The Toronto Star, October 10, 1988
VANCOUVER (CP) - He was a solitary fisherman who trolled the British Columbia coastline for prized spring salmon.
She was a writer from New York looking for a story, not a lover.
But when Edith Iglauer met John Heywood Daly some 15 years ago in this grown-up sea port, she found both in extraordinary measure.
The Cleveland-born author tells their story in Fishing With John (Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C.), a book born of almost five years fishing together on the 10-metre (33-foot) MoreKelp in the rolling waters off the spectacular and dangerous northern coast.
"Very few people know what it's actually like being on a fishing boat," Iglauer says. "(From land) you see these people get into a boat and disappear into the mist."
Beyond that Pacific mist lurks wild extremes. Astonishing sunsets, mid-afternoon Mozart sonatas and enough eccentric characters to populate 10 novels play counterpoint to a regular river of fish blood, the harrying lookout for gear-fouling kelp and the uncertain comfort of a pail as a toilet.
The white-bearded and long-limbed Daly, who'd been fishing for 40 years, did not try to soften the picture for the genteel writer about to become deckhand.
"Incident to test temper at 7 a.m.!" he wrote to Iglauer in New York. "After 2 attempts 2 clean water out of stove I finally got 2 eggs boiled, put one on seat in egg cup, then a log got in a fishline, had to dash out, couldn't C when came in' coz rain on glasses - I sat on the bloody egg and it rolled off and bust in my Hush Puppy shoes and then dript down into engine. "Do you still want to come?"
Amazingly, she did.
When the white-coiffed Iglauer, a divorced mother of two grown children, called her editor at the New Yorker magazine from a telephone booth in Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, "he knew that I had met this wonderful man."
Her first impression of the MoreKelp was less enthusiastic. The troller was a "shabby little vessel," she wrote, that stank of diesel oil and was oddly plastered with favorite Daly graffiti quoting Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.
Later, Iglauer would write: "I came to understand and love her, with all her miseries and peculiar discomfort, more than any house I have ever had. On the rare occasion when I was left behind to watch from shore as she departed for the fishing grounds, I would be so enchanted with the gentle beauty of the scene she created, gliding through the water as the vertical trolling poles slowly descended to a 45-degree angle, unfolding like wings."
Learning to see the beauty began under Daly's erudite but not always tactful tutelage.
"Don't do that!" he shouted when she innocently hung tea cups on their hooks in less than shipshape fashion. "What do you think would happen at the first roll of the boat in heavy weather? They would hit against each other and smash to bits. Think ahead before you do anything on a boat."
Now, wearing a silk blouse and fine jewelry instead of the Stanfield's long johns and sneakers she sported on the MoreKelp, Iglauer affirms that her disciplined reporter's eye produced a realistic portrait of the man - who became her husband - and the life.
"I really did try to tell it as it really happened and not to glaze anything over," she says. "Because it was hard, it was very hard for me to adjust in some ways. But he was such a kind person and so loving that it was okay."
Daly was also a risk-taker who delighted in daring treacherous reefs to lure the best salmon. Born in Vancouver on Halloween, 1912, he was raised in lonely stretches of Montana and Vancouver Island, educated in England and went to sea in 1934 to spend most of the rest of his life alone.
"A fishing life is a whole life in itself," Iglauer muses. "It was great adventure watching John fish, he was a very dramatic and forceful character."
Fishing With John, her fifth book, is practically an encyclopedia of trolling, which is commercial fishing with hooks, not nets. And much of the information is spoken directly by Daly, who focused his keen mind intently on his work.
"I wake up at 3 in the morning and my whole nervous system wants to go fishing," he told his wife. "That desire must go back thousands of years. I believe that some of us who love fishing and have spent our lives at it reach back into the sources of our evolution, which were from the ocean, to tune ourselves in on instincts we possessed millions of years ago.
"To be a good fisherman, you have to be able to think like a fish."
In the winter of 1978, moments after dancing like a youngster at a trappers' festival, Daly died. Still grieving three years later, Iglauer began to write about their life on the ocean.
"Every day I sat down at the typewriter and went back into that world," she says, her face crinkling at the memory. She still keeps their Pender Harbour home, "and now "he's become so much a part of me that I can make the transition from writing about him to just having him around inside me."
Daly would approve of this woman with the ready smile who lives well, though alone, part of the year in New York and part in the country they shared. Before they married he wrote to Iglauer: "When you attain the oneness I have with the sea and the mountains, and the B.C. coast - and you will, you will - you can face anything, and alone, if you have to.
"This will be my hoped-for gift to you. Neither are we parted then, nor do we die."
-Wendy Eckersly, Canadian Press
The Vancouver Province: Gone, but not to be forgotten
Excerpted in the New Yorker. Excerpted in Saturday Night.. A cover story in BC Bookworld.
Dubbed "superb" by Publisher's Weekly. Dubbed “graceful" by the New York Times. Featured on Gzowski's Morningside. Featured on CBC's Gabereau.
An instant appearance on the BC Bestseller List
The literary launch of Edith Iglauer's memoir of her four-and-a-half years aboard her late husband's 42-foot-salmon troller, Fishing with John has been unprecedented for a BC book, both in terms of prestige and breadth of coverage.
Everybody loves a love story. Especially a story composed by a recently widowed New Yorker staff writer, from a well-to-do American family; recalling her idyllic second marriage to a salty, Shakespeare-loving B.C. trade unionist.
John Daly, who died of a heart attack in 1978 while dancing to country 'n' western music, was the sort of classic, cantankerous, and yet lovable coastal individualist who turned off his engine to listen to classical music on CBC in the afternoons. . .
Originally Iglauer had intended to produce an ethnographic study of fishing, along the lines of her unsentimentalized books on the north, Inuit Journey (1979) and Denison's Ice Road (1975). . .
Then her husband died and she was devastated.
"I saw my life stretching out in desolation. It was just desolate land. But I realized you can't mourn like that forever."
Bolstered by Roberts Creek novelist Hubert Evans and encouraged by former New Yorker editor William Shawn, Daly worked for a decade on her testament to the cramped, complex gypsy life aboard Daly's troller, The MoreKelp. Veteran fishermen were consulted to ensure the fishing details were accurate.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux agreed to handle the book in the U.S. But, the book's passage throught the inlets of creation was primarily engineered by Pender Harbour's Howard White of Harbour Publishing, a close personal friend of Iglauer.
"The appropriate publisher is more important than the biggest publisher," she says.
Ultimately the New York Times has described Fishing With John as "an elegantly understated love story as well as a quiet account of personal metamorphosis."
But if Edith Iglauer Daly wasn't already associated with the New Yorker - that Mecca of North American literary sophistication - media attention for this worthwhile book would be much less.
Of course the romantic idea of Fishing With John is strong and delightful, and Iglauer's journalism is scrupulously fine throughout. But the glorious maverick spirit of John Daly, the sort of man who carved a weather-beaten sign on his veranda proclaiming "Faith in humanity, not Gods or $," never fully resurfaces in this very tasteful memoir.
John Daly and Edith Iglauer - our B.C. coast and the New Yorker.
Some marriages are made in heaven.
"Many people don't believe that it can be just as passionate and just as loving when you're older," says Iglauer. "And in some ways it can be better because you know what counts and what doesn't.
"And there's a lot of laughter about things you couldn't laugh about before. And of course our children were grown so we just had each other. It was totally wonderful."
Watch for a movie.
-Alan Twigg, The Province
Monday Magazine: FISHING WITH JOHN
At last, a book that does justice to the mysteries of that West Coast profession-cum-lifestyle. Pacific salmon trolling. Fishing With John is an autobiographical account of New Yorker journalist Edith Iglauer's marriage to British Columbia fisherman John Daly, and a description of her life at sea on Daly's wooden 41-foot troller, the Morekelp.
Her marriage lasted for four years - till Daly's death in 1978 - and the exquisitely observant Iglauer charts her outsider's discoveries, and her occasional clumsiness, while living and working in the close quarters of a salmon boat. The magnificent, and frequently perilous conditions of the coastal waters north of Vancouver Island form the backdrop for the narrative as it flows attentively over the routines and rhythms of commercial fishing, conveying the smallest details of movement, sounds, smells, climate, and fisherman's jargon, while strongly evoking the isolation and wearying hours. This book is most at home in its appreciation of those small domestic luxuries – such as good food, cabin warmth and scraps of sleep wedged between hours of work - that take on such importance as a troller.
Iglauer's husband John, typical of the resourceful, independent, and staunchly charactered individuals who run these boats, proves to be as colourful, challenging and adventurous a discovery for the author as fishing on the Morekelp itself. This portrait of John Daly his unique outlook and remarkable life story, is a lovingly crafted, and yet enigmatically private tribute.
Through the lively curiosity and joyfulness of this book's narrative are threaded bittersweet undertones of aging and mortality - which make Fishing With John in the end as much a meditation as an adventure.
Chris Gower, Monday Magazine
University of Toronto Bookstore Newsletter
Picture, if you will, a middle-aged, sophisticated woman from New York City, sent by William Shawn to Canada's west coast to write about life on a cramped, uncomfortable fishing boat. Picture her sharing tiny quarters with a sixty-one-year-old solitary commercial salmon fisherman whose toilet facilities consist of one galvanized-iron pail. Picture this woman never wanting to leave. This, in a nutshell, is the story of Fishing with John.
Now it's important to note that Edith Iglauer - the cosmopolitan New Yorker writer in question - had already been sent by Shawn to places every bit as cold and wet as Bella Bella and Cape Caution, and that this particular jaunt was her own idea. Observe also that John Daly was not, as it turned out, a stereotypical commercial fisherman. To be sure, there was usually blood or diesel oil on the Stanfield's underwear top he wore over his shirt, but he was also a keen lover of nature, an amateur philosopher, and a kindly soul given to listening to classical music on the CBC.
The other principal character in the book is the MoreKelp, John's 41-foot boat, a floating home and workplace for nearly half the year. "The MoreKelp has a reputation for catching fish," says John Daly, "but it is the single most uncomfortable fishing boat in British Columbia. No doubt about it." The white walls of the pilothouse are covered with John's favourite quotations from sources like Wilde, Shaw, Mao, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, as well as one or two of his own.
The author's qualifications for being aboard, apart from a permit from the Federal Minister of Fisheries, were an ability to stand the cold and damp and a constitutional resistance to seasickness. Otherwise, she knew little about boats and nothing at all about fishing. Her greatest fears were of getting in the way and of falling overboard. Fortunately the gentle Daly - a man who still felt remorse about killing fish after forty years - forgave her her gaffes and clumsinesses, and the bond that developed between them is a pleasure to behold.
Iglauer is reticent, almost coy, about the specifics of her relationship with John Daly, although we know from the start that they married. She does note that he proposed via long distance telephone, announcing that he had just spent eight dollars and fifty-six cents for a sky-blue wooden toilet seat to fit over the iron pail. It was two o'clock in the morning in New York. "What of it?" she asked him. "What of it?" he responded. "Marriage! That's what!" After Daly's death in 1978 - he almost literally danced himself to death at a trappers' festival in Manitoba - Iglauer sold the MoreKelp but went on living in their house in Pender Harbour. Fishing with John is a beautifully written tribute to a man who loved sunsets and had learned to think like a fish in order to catch them.
-The University of Toronto Bookstore
Toronto Star Article by Alan Twigg, October 1988
. . .Now the end result of her love, sorrow and painstaking journalism, 10 years later, is Fishing With John (Harbour).
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY has already dubbed Iglauer's fourth book, published in the U.S. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, "superb". Shawn says it's her best work ever. But Iglauer wrote it for love - in keeping with the spirit of the wise man who carved a weather-beaten sign on his veranda saying Faith In Humanity, Not Gods Or $ - and she is mostly concerned that each and every detail about West Coast fishing gear and practices is correct.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it sold 12 copies," says Iglauer, "Or maybe it will sell a lot. I have no judgment on it."
Iglauer's great Canadian love story began when she arrived in Vancouver in 1973 and was encouraged to telephone Daly by a mutual friend.
"He arrived talking a blue streak," she recalls, "apologizing that he was in his fishing pants. In the middle of the evening he asked if I ever married again, whether I wanted a big wedding or just go off to a justice of the peace. He never stopped talking until two-thirty in the morning."
After her first winter visit to Pender Harbour, BC, which included sauteed salmon and champagne aboard Daly's toilet-less MoreKelp, Iglauer returned to New York. Late one night she received a phone call.
"I've just bought a wooden toilet seat that I think will fit very well on top of that pail on the boat," he said, "It's sky-blue, and I paid eight dollars and fifty-five cents for it."
"Lovely," Iglauer replied, "But it's two o'clock in the morning here. What about it?"
"What about it?" he shouted back, "Marriage! That's what!"
IGLAUER left behind the sophisticated hurly-burly of New York, a city she says she has never liked, to embrace a cramped, complex, newly-married, gypsy life aboard the MoreKelp. As the Cleveland-born daughter of a well-to-do department store executive, Iglauer shocked some of her highbrow friends who kept wondering when she would return home.
"Many people don't believe that it can be just as passionate and just as loving when you're older," she says, "And in some ways it can be better because you know what counts and what doesn't.
"And there's a lot of laughter about things you couldn't laugh about before. And of course all our children were grown so we just had each other. It was totally wonderful."
Fishing With John is mainly a description of a joyful new life ruled by love, by fish and by weather. The multi-talented Daly rose before sunrise every morning, inspiring Iglauer to consider a general article on fishing for The New Yorker. She began making extensive notes.
The body of the text mostly describes commercial fishing. The soul of the book is Daly's character.
"What I hate more than anything are polite arseholes who agree," says Daly, "That's the road to destruction of mental protein. I believe in struggle - that physical and moral softness is death, and that we human beings can do anything.". . .
For the complete article and interview of Iglauer by Alan Twigg, about her career and her marriage to John Daly, see the Edith Iglauer author page
ARTICLE ON THE MAKING OF NAVIGATING THE HEART, THE TV MOVIE BASED ON FISHING WITH JOHN:
A Little Water Never Hurt: Jacklyn Smith was willing to do the scene 'cold' but her director said no
by Lynne McNamara, Vancouver-Province, July 4, 1999
Jacklyn Smith is a trooper.
She really wants to be icy cold for a wet scene in her Lifetime TV movie Navigating the Heart. ( It's based on the book Fishing With John written by Garden Bay's Edith Iglauer.)
But exec producer Lee Rose, who also rewrote the screenplay for the telepic, convinces the actress to don a rubber suit under her clothes. In the scene, Smith's character, a magazine writer, is drenched by a rogue wave while researching a story aboard a fishboat.
"I like my actors to be comfortable and warm," says Rose. So much for method acting.
Fishing With John has African Queen undertones: sophisticated New York journalist comes to B.C., meets crusty local fisherman, they spend time bickering on his grubby salmon trawler, then fall in love.
Tim Matheson, playing the Bogie role, is wet, too. He's discovered that his boat, the Morekelp, has been pushed into a deadhead by a swell and is taking on water.
And he's not impressed with the journalist, who's more comfortable on Madison Avenue than on the bounding main. He begins nailing the windows shut while hollering; "Never" (bang!) "trust" (bang!) "the media!"