"Good Ol' Fish Creek" by Ed Larkin is both frank and joyful. The writing style is simple, minimally structured, and unabashadly conversational. Larkin relates his stories haphazardly, piling them up with no serious structural intention. Yet his anecdotal style paints a layered portrait of Fish Creek campground in the last half-century.
To Larkin, a "camper" is a specific sub-species of homo sapiens. His book is an anthropology of this group, specifically the traditions and rights of passage endemic to the "Fish Creek People." Margaret Mead's ghost unwittingly haunts lines like this:
"Families that knew eachother tended to group together and we did the same ... for years our group consisted of Mom and Dad, John and Norma Daly, and Crista and Frank Beline. As I branched out, my family joined the 'mature group' too," or "When I got married and had my own dock, John placed the lantern on the end of my dock the same way, and it was always returned to him upon my arrival."
Part of this impression stems from Larkin's frequently passive voice, which lends a certain inevitability and academic distance to the events.
It's as if Larkin's inner anthropologist is interviewing him, leaving us with only the "A" half of a rambling Q&A session. Some of the questions Larkin posed himself must run along the lines of "Who helped you to become a better fisherman?" or "Why did you have to get so many tetanus shots?"
"Good Ol' Fish Creek" is a strikingly detailed portrait of a man who has measured every stage of life against the customs and society of a single campground in the Adirondacks. Larkin writes very specifically about the Fish Creek Campground - "In the early years, Mom and Dad would try to pick sites near the 50's because they seemed to have less wind and fewer mosquitos ... " -?but his impressions will speak to anyone who has camped at an Adirondack public campground.
My own grandparents have been camping at Lake Eaton for 40 years, and took me there every summer as a kid. Larkin's writing about trailer-backing antics and rainy day trips to town gave me a window to my grandparents', my parents' and my own experience. A doubled tarp over the woodpile, camper battery charging off the car, and careful packing of cast irons in newspaper and oily paper towel were born of many consecutive years of trying to be a better camper.
Larkin doesn't draw many conclusions about his experience, and hardly ever suggests that his past was grander than the present. He's an expert in the "what" of the place, and leaves the deeper "why's" to our speculation. As he writes -?and clearly believes - "Somehow, everything always worked out."
Often, Larkin's stories are often only a sentence or two, like this typical sketch:
"Dad would buy some sucker chubs and string them on with english books and a big needle. After the big bobber would go down a second time, we would land some northerns."
Among all of his factual language, he drops frequent optimistic interpretations -- "Docks are fun!" or "No problem, it was retrieved."
Larkin has written a beautiful portrait of a place that has inspired him more than any other, and if you're at all connected to the Adirondack camping culture, his memories are worth experiencing.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.