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Book Review: “Fly Fishing the River Styx”

There is a sweet sadness found in Richard Dokey’s newest book of short stories, Fly Fishing The River Styx. Sad, in that most of the stories are written from the perspective of one who is closing in on the end of life’s journey. Sweet, in that one of the few rewards of making it past middle age is the freedom to pretty much say and do what you want without fear of retribution. This includes spending as much time as possible along trout streams.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover and that is certainly true with respect to Fly Fishing The River Styx. Honestly, even the title put me off. Nevertheless, Richard Dokey has written stories that are some of the finest I’ve read in a long time. Although each story is set beside or in a river or stream, and like the author, the characters are fellow brothers of the angle, there is so much more to be found here.

Reading through the first few stories, you’ll find that Dokey is clearly influenced by the writing style of Ernest Hemingway. The prose in this volume is concise, sometimes terse, with simple words repeated for emphasis. Like Papa Hemingway, Dokey has adopted the iceberg theory of writing. As a fly fisher, he has no patience for the novice who wades through the best fishing lies. So too, he expects his readers to have the ability to search for meaning under the surface of his minimalistic prose. By the last chapter, Dokey gives up the ghost, writing that he had “two fathers, a literary father and a biological father.”

Although Dokey’s style may be reminiscent of Hemingway, his themes are those often touched upon by Thomas McGuane, and more so, by one of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison. Don’t get me wrong, the stories in this book are chock full of western streams and northern rivers teaming with trout. Dokey certainly knows his fishing. He also has a pretty good idea about life and what makes it worth living.

Like McGuane and Harrison, his stories are populated by men past their prime, men bewildered by a world that has past them by. Men who have lived long enough to betray and to be betrayed by a loved one. Yet, like the Dude, they abide, for what are the alternatives? In the final story of this book, Dokey explores those alternatives, one taken by his “literary” father another by his “biological” father.

Dokey does not preach. He lays it all out for the reader—the complexities and paradoxes of men’s relationships with their fathers, brothers, wives and lovers. I say men, because like Hemingway, McGuane, and Harrison, Dokey’s stories drip with testosterone, at least what little is left after middle age.

The other night my mother, now ninety-one years of age, looked up at me with tearful eyes and asked, “Why am I still here?” One of Dokey’s characters asks a similar question when many of the ranchers who had given him permission to fish their property have died. You see, like any good writer, Dokey is subversive. He hooks you with a good plot and character development, adds a dose of angling lore, and the next thing you know, you find yourself knee deep in genuine literature.

What we find in these stories are neither good guys nor bad. Just ordinary folks, like you and me, most of them scared shitless while trying to make it through to the other side with a bit of a dignity. Perhaps the best we can do in a world spinning beyond our control is to buckle up and enjoy the ride. For Richard Dokey, that involves grabbing a fly rod and heading for the nearest trout stream.