An unreliable narrator is not an uncommon device in storytelling. But what about an unreliable narrator relating the stories of his unreliable narrator father? Daniel Wallace gives us that in his 1998 novel "Big Fish."
William Bloom tells the story of his father, Edward. Or rather, he tells Edward's life story as Edward told it to William. Edward was an adventurer who could never stand to stay in one place for long. He traveled the world and met many people, and when he came home, he told stories to William. The stories were often fantastical, and Edward was almost always the hero of these stories. William refers to his father as a "mythical creature."
On Edward's deathbed, William tries unsuccessfully to begin a serious conversation with the man who always spoke in jokes, anecdotes, and tall tales. Edward's stories are always entertaining, but William wonders how much truth they contain. Worse, Edward spent much of his son's childhood away from home. As a result, William wonders how well he knows his father. Memory and embellishment can change a story over time. To underscore this point, William relates the story of his father's last days multiple times - each telling slightly different than the one before.
Wallace simultaneously entertains and moves the reader. The stories he weaves are often implausible and whimsical, and the book contains plenty of humor. But beneath it is the sadness of a father and son who never connect on a personal level. The reader is left to wonder whether an inaccurate story can still be a true story. Edward always wanted to be a big fish in a big pond. But he had another goal, which spoke while he was dying:
"If a man can be said to be loved by his son, then that man can be considered great."
Although Edward was nothing like my father, I thought of him while reading this book. And I smiled.