cover image Forty Fathom Bank

Forty Fathom Bank

Chronicle Books, Les Galloway. Chronicle Books, $10.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-0034-1

One of the two initial entries in this publisher's series of novellas (see The Secrets of the Camera Obscura , below), this odd yet engaging tale involves a young man afflicted with a ``hopelessness of spirit,'' who passes himself off as a fisherman and then discovers that a bountiful catch comes at a high cost. The unnamed narrator, struggling to support his family in San Francisco in the 1940s, buys a fishing boat in hopes of eking out a living. When some local drug companies inflate the value of a shark catch because those fish have a high vitamin-A content, several local fishermen set out in search of instant fortune. The narrator strikes a Faustian bargain with Ethan May, a mysterious, aloof sailor who will allow his partner to keep only a small portion of the cash they earn. This odd couple soon make a spectacular catch, and the narrator must come to terms with his jealousy at the disparity between his take and May's. Stylistically, the moody prose recalls the atmosphere of Poe's stories; some readers, in fact, may find it derivative. But though Galloway tips off his ending a bit, readers with a bent for quirky, dark fiction will be attracted to this unique fish tale. Galloway, who died in 1990, was a former seaman who published stories in Esquire and other magazines; he wrote and privately published this novel when he was 72. (June)