Two young boys learn about death and mercy on a camping trip, a fishing guide contemplates and crosses a dark line during an excursion with a rich, entitled client and a teenager following the Grateful Dead for a summer tour plunges into a frightening drug addled spiral.
These are just some of the characters searching for truth and meaning in life and death in the new short story collection by Vermont author Tim Weed.
VPR spoke with Weed about his new collection of stories, A Field Guide to Murder and Fly Fishing.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. Listen to the full audio above.
VPR: How has fly fishing and teaching that art of angling been a part of your life story?
Weed: “I started when I was very young. My grandfather was a doctor in Denver and used to belong to a club that had these private lakes up in the in the Rockies and he used to take my brother and I out there. We learned to fly fish up there, so it's really always been part of my life and continues to be.
“You know, I tried for a long time to meditate, and for me fly fishing is the closest I can really get to meditation. I have a couple of hours will go by and I won't have a single thought, which I guess is what meditation does, but it also takes you out to ... the most beautiful parts of the world and nature. So I love it as part of my life.”
The very first story in the book is about these two boys who go on this fly fishing trip. One seems to have a more merciful look at nature than the other. Is this something that you wanted to bring out, the way that humans interact with nature and what it tells us about ourselves?
“Yeah I think that's a good way to put it. And you know I chose that story to begin the book not only because it had the youngest characters, but also because I think it sort of asks a question that continues to come back through the book, and that part of that question is about our relationship to nature.”
One story features a man caught in an avalanche. And I know you’re experienced in the outdoors, so I kept wondering if you were ever caught in the avalanche.
“I came pretty close. My brother is actually an avalanche forecaster out in Northern Utah and we have had some close calls. But no, I have never been caught in that experience.
“And one of the things that that I love about writing fiction is that it takes situations — or at least the way that I have approached it in the story — is you can take a situation in life and then you can push it to its logical conclusion, you know, from the safety of writing fiction .
“And that's what a lot of these stories do. They take situations that could have happened and sort of pushed them to see how far that can go.”
Another story is about a teenager following the Grateful Dead, and while acknowledging the joy in the music, it really is quite dark, and you don't shy away from describing the unfortunate dangers of drug abuse that some Deadheads succumb to. Did the drug culture overshadow or negate the musical element of attending Dead shows when you were following them?
“I don't think so. I think that one of the things about fiction is that fiction has to be dark. I think that the story actually is about some psychological darkness, and it did have some roots in some experiences that I had, but it wasn't necessarily having to do with the Dead drug culture.
“It was kind of the story kind of tries to get at the truth of that through the Grateful Dead and the culture of the Dead. So for me the drug aspect didn't overshadow what was really great about the Dead.”
And that story isn't just about the Grateful Dead. It's about this young man who's really coming of age, he's losing his girlfriend and the Grateful Dead is a background to all of that. And I think that's true of most of the stories in this book. You're really able to tell a bigger story just about the human condition.
“That was definitely what I guess what I was trying to do. What I was trying to do was first of all just to tell a good story. That's the kind of literature that I really respect is literature that can really tell a kind of immersive good, often dark, but very entertaining story. And then if something comes out of that, if you sort of inch a little closer to some kind of universal resonance or truth in that, then that's great.”