28 August 2009

Review: Inventing Montana by Ted Leeson

Ted Leeson's newest collection of essays takes us to one of the most famous fly-fishing areas of the country: the Madison Valley. For about twenty years, Leeson, his wife, and a group of friends have met every August to stay in the same rented farmhouse. Through twelve nicely paced essays, Leeson conflates the seasons to give us a sense of life in Montana through the eyes of a long-time visitor.

In the tradition of most outdoor writing, Leeson's reflections encompass much more than fishing. Several essays touch on the power of space, the meanings of house and home, and the easy rhythm of life among friends who have long since taken on comfortable summer roles.

Leeson is not insular, however, and also notices how Montana has changed over the decades from a sportsman's haven to the playground of the rich and famous. He explores the question of what it must be like to live in a town that is caught between needing the tourists in order to make a living and simultaneously resenting their intrusion. He observes the irony of the diminishing open spaces caused by the influx of people who have moved to the state to enjoy the wilderness.

But ultimately, Inventing Montana is about the fishing. In one section, Leeson ponders the differences between wading and floating the river:

The sense of promise in wade fishing originates in its deliberateness, in the potential for adapting to circumstances, and in the confidence that every local angling problem has a solution. . . . The drifting angler, by comparison, embraces the more innocent optimism of what lies ahead, the fresh hand dealt, the next card turned; it is poker hope, by no means inferior, but rather more easily purchased. (p. 53)

Through humor and good storytelling, Leeson takes on the hunt to find the perfect water, the quest for solitude, and the agonizing wait for the hatches. He also ponders the correct way to answer, "What's your favorite fishing spot?"

An honest reply would take some explaining, and I have learned that any response to a fishing question posed casually at a social function should be scrupulously brief, at least if you care to get invited anywhere again. (pp. 132-133)

And throughout it all, Leeson's love of the Madison River Valley is evident:

The first hours of light on a river are the most gracious of the day. Cool night air still lingers over the water, and there is seldom any wind. Shadows stretch out as the day uncurls in the yawn of morning sun, and the river is never more quietly spectacular or the landscape more vividly limned than in that slanting light. (p. 107)

Inventing Montana should appeal to anyone who fly fishes, enjoys nature, and who has been lucky enough to return year after year to a favorite spot with the best of people.

Note that all extracts come from an advance reading copy and may not exactly match the finished book. Thanks to Thomas Semosh for bringing this title to my attention at BEA.

Published by Skyhorse Publishing, September 1, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781602397965
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 65
Rating: B


Kristen 8/28/09, 9:42 AM  

The sense of peace and serenity that pervade the quotes you posted definitely make this intriguing despite my general lack of interest in fishing.

Julie P. 8/28/09, 12:13 PM  

I have to be honest that I can't really relate to this, but it does sound beautiful.

The Tome Traveller 8/28/09, 2:01 PM  

Sounds wonderful, my husband would love this book! We live in a beautiful spot but he is always going on about how he would love to live in Montana or South Dakota or Wyoming.

bermudaonion 8/28/09, 3:18 PM  

Neither one of us fish, but the language of the book does sound beautiful.

Margot at Joyfully Retired 8/28/09, 4:52 PM  

This is my kind of book. Thank you for sharing so much of it. All the quotes give me a good sense of his writing which I find quite beautiful. It doesn't hurt that I love Montana too.

stacybuckeye 8/29/09, 3:24 PM  

I wish I had the necessary patience to fish. Oh, and the necessary acceptance of worms and all things slimy ;)
I have always invisioned Montana as a beautiful place and would love to visit someday.

Veens 8/31/09, 8:42 PM  

Gosh! I dnt think I would like this one! I don't have any love for fishing :)

But his love is purely evident :)

Jenners 9/8/09, 8:42 PM  

This post caught my eye becuase my family lives in Montana (and I lived there for 3 years). We aren't a fly fishing family though ... we are more of a mountain family so I haven't heard about this book from my family -- they are pretty on top of Montana literature. But I'm going to ask my brother if he heard of it.

Matt,  11/11/09, 3:49 PM  

I found reading the book to be like wading through 2 feet of mud. It trudges along using far too many words to get a point across. As I read, I couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to prove he was an intellectual, or that he knows more about what really matters in life than the rest of us.
Having fished the Madison Valley for decades, I wouldn't recommend this.


Beth F 11/11/09, 3:55 PM  

Matt: Mr. BFR (a lifelong fisherman), had the same exact reaction as you did. You are not alone!

Donn 1/30/10, 11:57 PM  

I have to agree with Matt. As a MT native, avid fly fisherman and reader, I bought this book based on (biased) reviews. Chapter I, written in First Person Present Tense with cutesy names, such as The Painter, The Writer, The Cook, etc. was so wordy and contrived I almost cried. The rest was only mildly better. My advise: if you want to read a good book on fishing or MT, find one by Tom McGuane, but don't waste your money on this one.

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