“He was ashamed to admit he was glad he felt relived that his wife was dead. But he would have been dead if he had shown up on the door step with rife and a full set of camos (“good to-10 degrees Fahrenheit”) and a bottle of deer urine.Arthur Wayne Glowka
I met Arthur Wayne Glowka (who goes by Wayne) when he was the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University where I received my MFA in Creative Writing. He’s a former English professor. He also an actor, director, playwright, and woodworker, often found exploring the woods with his wife Beth. He plays too many instruments to list, and actually handcrafts some of those same instruments. He “retired” last year, and I use quotation marks around “retired,” because if you know this man and see what he gets himself into on a daily basis, it looks nothing like retirement. I’m a Generation- Xer and I find his adventures a little exhausting. His energy would compete with the energy levels of my Millennial and Gen-Zer friends. Glowka is a true Renaissance Man. He is someone who ventures down many rabbit holes and now has written an extremely amusing novel about a very dark subject—the loss of a spouse—called Trout and Other Mythical Beings.
At the tender age of sixty-five Harry Mature’s wife, Mary, his wife of forty years, passes away and Harry doesn’t skip a beat. He heads straight to the liquor cabinet Mary locked up twelve years ago. Harry is a lot like Mary’s locked liquor cabinet, though—so much repressed joy and too long neglected needs. He’s been locked away from all his vices, but he promptly makes up for lost time: scotch, cigars, guns, ammo, shooting range, deer hunting, online dating, trout fishing, women, sex, sex, sex, and you better believe it, a motorcycle. Every day is a new adventure in male freedom. Trout And Other Mythical Beings is hilarious with a dry note of sadness. Instead of grieving, Harry fills the void with everything he’s missed out on being in an unhappy marriage.
Readers of the feminine persuasion may balk initially reading some of Harry’s thoughts towards his deceased wife, daughter, and grandchildren. He has a lot of disdain for his family. After he kills a deer, Harry’s daughter Kat leaves him a note on his front door cancelling Thanksgiving and Harry reflects on his two granddaughters: “They made self-loathing comments about white privilege, and planned to attend exclusive colleges in the Northeast, where they would major in victim studies and marry the sons of corporate CEO’s—unless they decided to be lesbians or “men that menstruate.” It’s harsh, but Harry and Kat are both stereotyping each other. Mostly, this is the case because neither know anything about the other; they make assumptions. Everything went through the mother. Plus, in Harry’s eyes Kat, the antagonist in this story, is seemingly more concerned with keeping him on the straight and narrow. She leaves “to do” lists that have to be about the worst “to do” list of all times:
He saw a list of things for him to do: go to the courthouse and change the car title; provide copies of the death certificate to banks; financial planners, insurers, and governmental agencies; liquidate assets to pay what was owed to the hospitals, doctors, labs, the undertaker, and the florist; order a head stone (Kat had circled the one she liked and specified the desired wording); and get the house cleaned up (she had attached a card for a housecleaning service).
I was reminded of when my own father passed away. The day after he died, I was at the DMV taking care of a similar “to do” list for my mother. She didn’t ask me to do this. It was my way of avoiding his death, and I so understood Kat’s position, but reading Glowka’s novel I was also annoyed for Harry. It made me see another side of how people deal with death. Kat treats Harry like a noncompliant child. You’ve got to feel sorry for a guy who has worked all his life, finally retires, and his wife gets breast cancer and dies soon after the diagnosis. My sympathies for him are less about Mary’s death, however, and more about Harry never having a voice or a say in his own life. Though the tone is matter of fact and Harry comes off a little heartless, I think anyone who has been in a relationship—a relationship that should have been killed and buried years ago—can relate to Harry’s feelings. Death has made Harry come to life and he wants to experience everything all at once.
Harry is on a journey of self-discovery pursuing his wildest dreams and even some boyish ones such as hunting and catching that mythical trout. The trout is a very real trout, but it also symbolizes everything that has been denied him. He goes on these mini adventures, and though he’s bumbling through much of it, he comes out on top. In fact, Harry pretty much gets everything he sets out to get—a buck with massive antlers, a beautiful trout, as well as a slew of sex-crazed women throwing themselves at him. Harry is a real horndog and so are the women he meets. Prepare to blush a little. But Trout and Other Mythical Beings has the quality of being a tall tale, so much so, you wonder if the trout he caught is as large as he describes it to be or the woman as beautiful and unable resist him as he perceives. Men have been lying about the size of the fish they caught, amongst other things, since the beginning of time and I suspect Harry is no different than any other man when it comes to sizing questions. Mythical heroes are not ordinary men and while Harry may not seem your typical mythical hero, in his mind he is.
Trout and Other Mythical Beings has all the elements of a mythical quest: tragedy, comedy, irony, and romance. Though Harry completes each quest at the end of each experience he discovers he isn’t completely satisfied. He wishes for a friend, a companion, someone to share in his accomplishments. He never thinks of his wife, though. She wouldn’t approve of any of his new life choices, nor would his daughter who is essentially a replica of his wife. He never really stands up to his daughter. He simply ignores her (much to her chagrin) and does what he wants anyway, piling up adventures and chasing the next dream.
Some of the best and hysterically funny scenes are when Harry discovers online dating. He goes after everything like a man who has been newly released from prison and definitely a man who missed the sexual revolution tucked neatly away in a conventional marriage: “There was hunting, and there would soon be fishing too, and there was something he had not planned on: dating without a purpose When he was young, he dated to pursue a wife.” The sex-escapades are described using hyperbole, purposely overly embellished, and designed to make the reader snicker. When Harry and Debbie finally hook up, Glowka piles on the Norse mythology to describe the scene: “Debbie explored Odin’s chest and stomach and soon found the trunk of Yggdrasil, the World Ash Tree, with its roots and holding together the Nine Worlds with their various wells.” Perhaps, Harry’s life was so dull and routine that anything that comes his way post-wife is super sparkly and new. I’m still pondering that. I mean “mythical beings” is part of the title and just look at the cover. A lady emerging from the water with a fish in her mouth! Plus, there’s an element of satire throughout the novel, so ultimately, the reader will have to decide that one.
It isn’t until Harry meets another widower, Debbie, a 58-year-old, Harley-riding, giant of a woman in an all-female biker club called the Shield Maidens that he discovers what he’s been missing. Harry was covering up grief with his follies, pursuing everything to avoid feeling. He hadn’t mourned his wife, and for all the contempt he seems to have had for her they were still married for forty years. He does have his moment to mourn eventually. There’s a lovely scene where the two journey to the Georgia National Cemetery that hit me a little hard. Trout And Other Mythical Beings is set in North Georgia; Cherokee County was my old stomping grounds as a young adult. My father is interned in the Georgia National Cemetery and the ride Glowka describes up to the to the cemetery choked me up a bit. Harry needed this, but more than anything he needed someone like Debbie who becomes first a friend and then a love interest. That’s what Harry was truly seeking all along–human connection.
Trout and Other Mythical Beings, as all myths should, has an epic ending. The whole novel will make you giggle and some of my favorite scenes are the interactions between the new, leather-clad, motorcycle riding Harry and Kat, who thinks her father has lost his mind. The collision of those two personalities is wonderful. Those are the scenes you start reading faster to discover Kat’s reaction and go back and reread. For all its comedy, the novel does touch on serious subjects—disease, suffering, death, grief. Kat went into overdrive and Harry simply ignored his wife’s death, replacing the void with camo, women, and an Indian motorcycle, and that’s okay. It’s valuable to recognize people react differently. There’s not a right or wrong way to deal with death. In the end there’s a reconciliation between father and daughter that probably never would have occurred if Harry had died before his wife did. I think good fiction ought to say something and send a message, however, it can’t be forced, and it should be cleverly articulated. That’s what Glowka has done with Trout and Other Mythical Beings; he’s used the art of comedy to interpret tragedy in an incredibly unique and invigorating way.
Get your paperback copy of TROUT AND OTHER MYTHICAL BEINGS by visiting Bear Book Market at 21 North Grove Street, Dahlonega, GA, via Bear Book Market’s online store at Bear Book Market, directly from the author by emailing him at email@example.com, or via Kindle E-book.
Want to meet the author, attend a reading, and hear some banjo playing? You do. You sure do! Here’s your opportunity:
Etowah Valley MFA Program Summer Residency Reinhardt University Waleska, GA July 10, 2021, 8:00 pm: Trout and Other Mythical Beings: A Reading from the Arthur Wayne Glowka (a maybe a little banjo). Directions
More about Arthur Wayne Glowka:
Arthur Wayne Glowka (born in Weimar, Texas, in 1952) grew up in San Antonio, Texas, in the shadow of the Alamo, and heard heroic tales about its fall from an early age. The Irish nuns who ran his elementary school directed him to books about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and his study of Spanish in high school has led to a lifelong fascination with Latin America and Spain. He studied English at the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1973; M.A., 1975), where he fell in love with medieval tales told in their original languages. Before pursuing his doctorate in English at the University of Delaware (English, 1980), he spent two years away from formal study to fish and to plunder libraries and used bookstores for books on fishing and a wide variety of other subjects. His scholarly publications have treated metrics, the legendary history of Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer, dialectology, lexicography, and Flannery O’Connor. He has served as an editor for academic journals, most recently James Dickey Review. His creative publications include an epic about the Texas Revolution (The Texiad), a series of medieval romances retold for contemporary readers, plays, and a novel (Trout and Other Mythical Beings). He was Professor of English at Georgia College (1980-2007) and the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University (2007-2020). He retired from teaching and administration in July of 2020—but not from writing, woodworking, music, and hiking.
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