Fishing Buddies: A Spiritual Tale
by Thomas R. Martin
Balboa Press

"’Seeing God’s creation is like reading His mind, eh?’ Peter exclaimed excitedly, connecting another dot in his mind. The Old Man looked back at Peter. ‘Indeed it is!’"

This story is about fishing from a favorite hole down by the river, but it is also about so much more than fishing. Paul—who has lived out of town and been involved with drugs, alcohol, and breaking the law—has come back to the small town where he lived as a child due to the death of his childhood best friend, Peter. Disillusioned and angry at the world, he finds himself sitting on his old bed in his childhood bedroom, reaching fondly for the pair of fishing rods he and Peter used to carry with such excitement down to the river, past the railroad tracks and the tall grasses, to spend the hot summer days fishing at their spot by the river’s edge.

In his reminisces, Paul recalls how the boys' lives are changed and quite literally touched with light after meeting an eccentric Old Man (as he is referred to throughout the novel), who challenges the young duo on matters of faith, spirit, and truth. The Old Man, who somehow knows their names before any words are spoken, begins meeting Pete and Paul down by the water’s edge on a regular basis for what ends up being hours of religious and philosophical discussion and illumination. One almost forgets that these are two school-aged boys, there in the first place to catch some big fish. Peter, in particular, is a special kind of kid, almost an old soul in a youngster’s body, who cannot help questioning the why and how of the ways of the world. In fact, Paul and their other friends call him Socs, short for Socrates, as he has the spirit of a young philosopher, a seeker of truth. Over time, the Old Man opens the minds and hearts of Peter and Paul and guides them on a spiritual journey. At one point, he gives them their very own, seemingly new and perfect set of fishing rods to try for themselves. Not only are the fish hungry and biting, to be sure, but the boys experience something of a miraculous episode, in which some of the truth of God and love and the interconnectedness of all is displayed for them in an almost psychedelic fashion.

The fourth main character in this most interesting religious tale is Bill, the older war-torn owner of the tackle shop where Peter and Paul eagerly stop every morning on their way down to the fishing hole and their experiences with the Old Man. In Bill’s shop, they purchase their beloved grape sodas, snacks for the day, and, of course, bait for their expeditions.

Martin has woven a beautiful and masterful storyline involving these four individuals, which is not only highly readable and relatable but which at certain points reads rather like gorgeous poetry, especially in describing the “religious” experiences the main characters go through. A splendid blending of poetry and philosophy fills many of these pages, even as the reader is not always exactly sure precisely what may be going on. It is more than apparent that something of a religious and magical nature is bearing fruit. Any reader who enjoys religious fiction will not want it to end, as young Pete and Paul stand at the sandy bank of their friend the river, fishing for more than they bargained.

Later in the story, the strange, hypnotic, dream-like experiences of Bill are magnificent, and we learn that he is tasked with the important job of letting a deeply hurting adult Paul know that his mother is still very much with him. Part dream-like, part simple story of two young boys growing up together who love nothing more than spending their summer days down at the stream reeling in big catches, Martin has created what can only be described as a unique and highly original narrative which any fan of religious fiction is encouraged to pick up. Chances are it’ll be regarded as a good catch.

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