FAILURE OF FISH, by Michael S. Robinson, Sr., 328 pages
NOT YOUR RANK-AND-FILE BEDTIME STORYFailure of Fish is a refreshing newcomer to those relatively few novels qualifying as fine literary works. Addressing the age-old problem of individual moral responsibility, author Michael Sorbonne Robinson, Sr. explores the mind of a fatherless teen boy, who watches helplessly as his childhood community descends into moral ruin, ending up, literally, as the smoking remains of a once-thriving town.Robinson’s voice is the young Billy Potter, who struggles in his own challenges of dealing with the loss of his father, the apparent duplicity of his mother, the clash of religious piety and scientific learning, and his own uncharted transition from puberty to manhood.Set in Western British Columbia during the early days of Germany's first rise to power and the “war that would end all wars,” Billy faces the uncertainties of a changing world and the realization that even the remoteness of Stella’s Cove, B.C. doesn’t provide protection against the terrors of war. It is the loss of his closest friend that crystallizes his understanding that home is not really so isolated after all.Written in a markedly older style, Robinson recreates the heartaches, fears, and disintegrating realities of a true coming-of-age hero. One of the books first reviewers had this to say: “I have just finished reading “Failure of Fish” and found it an excellent read. I loved teaching 10th grade English and coming-of-age literature. Billy’s character deserves status along-side Holden Caulfield, Huck Finn, Phineas, and the lads in “Lord of the Flies” in their elusive search for identity and manhood. Were I still teaching, I certainly would have added “Failure of Fish” to my reading list.”While not at all a suspense thriller, Robinson nails the sometimes shocking behavior of his characters, creating a final summary judgment for those who abdicated their moral responsibility to the will of a group. If you’re tired of bodice-rippers and the same-ol’-same-ol’, you will find this book a refreshing read.
FAILURE OF FISH, by Michael S. Robinson, Sr., 328 pages, paperback and Kindle
A debut novel chronicles the rising and falling fortunes of a Canadian gold mining and fishing town through the eyes of a local boy.
After spending five years in college and earning two degrees, Billy Potter returns to his hometown on the northwestern British Columbia coast during World War I. He’s a passenger on the Aniak, a supply ship that makes a monthly journey to Stella’s Cove, an isolated village that is now almost deserted. His mother, a religious fanatic and alcoholic, is ailing and Billy plans a one-month stay. During Billy’s journey, the town’s tumultuous past is described, including its first rise to glory as a center for the fur trade, another run at prosperity during the gold rush, and a later boom after a salmon-processing plant becomes successful. Prosperity never lasts for long (“like the instability of the glacier that hung menacingly over it, the town of Stella’s Cove was always on a precipitous footing”). When the fur and gold are gone, the Aniak stops coming and desperate residents attempt escapes by land and sea, usually with unfortunate consequences. Billy flees to a university at age 18, but not without having suffered for years at the hands of the Rev. Miles Cromwell, the strict Methodist preacher and schoolmaster whose violent ways leave several students permanently injured. At Cromwell’s direction, the moral code of the town lacks kindness and honesty, which results in several tragic outcomes. The anti-science fervor that rages leads to conflict with a new schoolteacher and eventually poisons Stella’s Cove’s economy. Robinson’s historical novel is packed with illuminating tales about this remote town’s misfortunes, many of them compelling and beautifully described, no matter how dire the situations. While the sapphire-blue glacier hovering over Stella’s Cove remains a source of wonder, the author conveys the fear that Billy and the other residents have of its deadly potential. More than just a boomtown story, the novel makes a strong statement about morality, revealing the different ways that gossip and rigid and unfeeling religious views spark the village’s eventual upheaval.
An insightful tale that digs deep into the rugged history of British Columbia.
FAILURE OF FISH, reader review:
First of all, a word or two of introduction. I graduated from Harvard, received two master’s degrees and taught English and Literature for years in both the U.S. and Europe.
I have just finished reading “Failure of Fish” and found it an excellent read. I loved teaching 10th grade English and coming-of-age literature. Billy’s character deserves status along-side Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”), Huck Finn (Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”), Phineas (John Knowles “A Separate Peace”), and the lads in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” in their elusive search for identity and manhood. Anyway, were I still teaching, I certainly would have added “Carnivorous Sheep” to my reading list . . . Although Billy’s extensive use of the Sears catalog (not to mention his mother's extra-curricular activity in the living room) may have cost your book’s being published by Deseret Book (a Mormon publishing company), it certainly empathizes with the emotions and hormones that raced through us as teenagers.
I absolutely loved the way you presented the conflict between what really constitutes being a" good Christian" and the dangers of judging others. Your plot and major conflict reminded me of the Whiskey Priest in Graham Green’s “Power and the Glory”. After studying this work in class, I had only one question on the final: “Was the Whiskey Priest a Saint? Support your answer from his actions in the text”. It is interesting that most Catholics in my classes condemned him for his actions (because they went against standard Catholic dogma) while most others sainted him (because they thought his actions exemplified a good Christian)
Anyway, were I still teaching, I certainly would have added “Failure of Fish” to my reading list . . . Deseret Book be damned!
FAILURE OF FISH,
Review by Jack Magnus
Michael Sorbonne Robinson's historical coming of age novel, FAILURE OF FISH: When the Flock Becomes a Pack, is massive, enthralling and intense. The history of Stella's Cove unfolds beautifully in this powerful and compelling work. The sapphire-blue glacier that isolates the town seems to become an organic presence that sings to the defrocked Reverend Mills and lures continental climbers to their doom. Robinson's heroes are humanists with balance and kindness as their prime motivators; his villains stoop to innuendo and callous mistreatment of those who defy or even dare to disagree with them. However, it's not a mere matter of religion versus agnosticism. Robinson's theme goes much more deeply than that. His style has gravitas and maturity and an elegant playfulness that reminded me quite often of Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy and his other literary works. FAILURE OF FISH is seriously good literary fiction. I found it to be gorgeous, poetic, powerful and profound, and I most highly recommend it.
FAILURE OF FISH reader review
By "Oscar the Great" on Amazon
Was turned onto this book by a local book club, and not sure why more people aren't talking about it. Exceptional novel full of subtext, creativity, and valuable lessons about the flaws in human nature and the pack mentality that can bring out the worst (and best) in our various social cultures. Bravo!
Reviewed by K. C. Finn
…..FAILURE OF FISH was an unexpectedly enjoyable read, for despite the dark themes and philosophical overtones on the inherently wicked nature of mankind, there was an overwhelming warmth in Billy’s narration of events. I found that Michael Sorbonne Robinson’s writing flowed effortlessly from chapter to chapter, which kept me reading and totally immersed in the historical style of storytelling. Billy’s experiences of Stella’s Cove feel harrowingly realistic, and this slow burning plot kept me intrigued, especially as it began to include other colourful characters like the ‘ruffian’ Harry, Miss Hardwick the schoolteacher, and of course the inimitable George Murphy. Failure of Fish is certainly a harrowing read overall with a very important message, and I’d recommend it to fans of deep historical detail, philosophical viewpoints, and character driven stories that don’t necessarily have a happily ever after
Failure of Fish
Michael Sorbonne Robinson, Sr.
BroncoJockey Books, LLC (2017)
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (03/17)
“Failure of Fish” by Michael Sorbonne Robinson, Sr., is the riveting story of the people and town of Stella’s Cove, a beautiful rural fishing community set against the backdrop of a majestic glacier off the Pacific Coast, in British Columbia. Over the course of time, Stella’s Cove goes through several economic ups and downs, with three major periods of prosperity. In between each economic boom, Stella’s Cove becomes like a ghost town with very few inhabitants remaining.
The town’s religious leader, Rev. Cromwell, plays a large role in the demise of Stella’s Cove. Cromwell is an angry, judgmental man, who seems to delight in the misery of others. Cromwell leads his Methodist congregation into a dark place where, instead of evolving spiritually, the people of the town regress, adopting a mob mentality united in
hateful behavior toward people considered outsiders. Most of “Failure of Fish” is told through the disappointed eyes of Billy Potter. Billy, just a teen when everything falls apart in Stella’s Cove for the last time, struggles with remaining true to his childhood loyalties as he develops his own moral compass. Ultimately, Billy suffers from the loss of close friends as the result of Cromwell’s influence on the town.
“Failure of Fish” is an incredible tale. Beautifully written, I felt like I was actually seeing the story unfold, rather than reading about it. The harshness of dwelling in such an unforgiving place was interesting in itself, yet the fictional inhabitants make it an even more compelling novel, one I truly found hard to put down. The author does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life. It was eye opening to follow along as the “sheep” allowed themselves to be
led down the wrong path, time after time. Knowing that mob mentalities like these have actually occurred historically, and with devastating results, made the story even more realistic. When the characters suffered, I felt like I was right there with them, and at times it was gut wrenching. Due to the depravity described in some of the scenes, I would suggest that this story is best for mature readers.
Overall, I would highly recommend “Failure of Fish” by Michael Sorbonne
Robinson, Sr., to people who enjoy historical fiction, especially with
heavy psychological undertones. This story will not disappoint.