Book Review: Holding Lies by John Larison

John Larison’s new novel Holding Lies is a grown up version of The River Why. It’s grim. In some ways, it’s the book David James Duncan said he didn’t want to write, couldn’t. Because the situation facing the Northwest’s wild salmonids is too dark.

That said, it’s a gorgeous book and you need to read it.

Published last week by Skyhorse Press, the five word summary would read: Oregon fly fishing murder mystery.

Rob Russell fly fishing for salmon

But it’s really about learning how to fight for a river, and for wild steelhead. Hank Hazelton and his crew of river stewards illustrates a tight knit community’s beautiful and tragic commitment to wild fish. Plus, there is hatchery puke sabotage, some Monkey Wrench Gang antics to keep it entertaining.

It’s about the conflict between old guides and tradition and new guides and my generation’s sense of entitlement. It’s about the tension between guides and dudes.

The book is also about asking why we fish. It’s about the wedge fishing can drive between an angler and family – between fishing and everything else really. Because you can lose yourself in the river.

It asks the question of whether or not it’s worth it – whether we’re wasting our lives fishing. Torturing small animals and letting them go.

Larison’s book captures the nuances of these questions beautifully, and asks you to come up with your own answers.

The Ipsyniho River is supposed to be a fictionalized amalgam of Oregon’s steelhead waters, but it’s really based on one river.

Larison throws you off with place names from other waters around Oregon, but drops clues throughout as to the true inspiration for his fictional river, with hints as subtle as mentioning that a character sees both blacktail and whitetail deer frolicking together.

Word of warning — Larison wrote this book for you, about you. Your culture. Your life. It’s a little creepy to walk around in a fictionalized version of your reality at first.

And, let’s face it – Northwest Steelhead fly fishing culture is overblown and self-important.

As the story dives into the conflicts in Hank’s world more, the steelhead culture fades into the background and it’s like listening to a story told by a friend.

You owe it to yourself: Buy Holding Lies. And John’s other books, Northwest of Normal and The Complete Steelheader.

Read our interview with John Larison from 2009.

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3 Responses to Book Review: Holding Lies by John Larison

  1. Horatio says:

    “And, let’s face it – Northwest Steelhead fly fishing culture is overblown and self-important.”


  2. Rob R says:

    Maybe it’s more about how NOT to fight for your river.

  3. rob maxwell says:

    john–hope you got package with copy of review in Register.

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