cover image Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador

Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador

John Gimlette / Author Knopf Publishing Group $25 (384p) ISBN

Gimlette's account of his journey through Newfoundland and Labrador is more personal than his last travelogue (At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, set in Paraguay); he's tracing his own history as he follows the trail of his great-grandfather, a nineteenth century missionary doctor. Rather than slowing the pace, the family connection increases his chances of stumbling across weird and wonderful tableaux, and the turns of phrase Gimlette uses to describe them are as singular and unruly as the isolated and forgotten land he explores (""The sky was clean as a knife,"" for instance). It's difficult to avoid feeling like a keen sense of the absurd rules the northeastern reaches of North America: bear-fighting goats, an emergency air-landing strip serving the whole world and countless ghost towns left from the heady days when the cod fishing ruled the island; every place Gimlette visits is stranger than the previous. He weaves his ancestor's tale with his own travels and the region's history without creating an overwhelming tangle, although at times his delivery is choppy and truncated with abrupt section breaks. Usually, he eases into each locale, finds the oddest, most garrulous inhabitant and listens to their complaints, theories and family sagas. Readers will be fascinated by Newfoundland's and Labrador's bizarre, often tragic pasts and equally strange presents, and they will be glad it was the eloquent Gimlette who made the trip so they don't have to. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.