The only fiction on this year’s list of Montana Book Award winners tells the intertwined stories of a fishing guide and his friends as they encounter challenges that life might throw at any of us. Missoula author Kevin Canty’s novel doesn’t quite live up to its title, Everything: A Novel, but it sure comes close. Among the issues Canty addresses are the death of a life partner, dealing with cancer, loving a child while watching her make bad decisions, falling in love with married partner, and selling a piece of real estate you love so you can live in comfort.

Canty explores these universal themes in a specific setting, Missoula and the valleys and mountains that surround it. His clear prose  is equally adept at evoking the splash of a fish jumping in a mountain stream and the clatter of beer glasses in a student bar.

The central character is a middle-aged fishing guide who calls himself “RL.”  The book opens with RL and his friend, June, drinking whiskey on the bank of the Clark Fork to commemorate her late husband. RL’s daughter, Leila, falls in love in love with one of his employees whose marriage is on the rock. And RL rekindles his affair with June, an old flame who’s in town for cancer treatments.

There’s not a strong central plot that links together the several stories, but Canty proved he is a master of the short in his earlier books (Where the Money Went and A Stranger in This World: Stories) and the shared links to RL and the Missoula location are plenty to hold the book together.  It’s Canty’s characters and their problems that make the book stick in the reader’s memory like a well set fishhook.

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— To find out more about my work with the Montana Book Award look under the “Categories Button” on the right.

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