The Bright Country

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Harry Middleton’s THE BRIGHT COUNTRY is a book that will ultimately bring one to one’s knees. Much like Norman Maclean’s A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT or William Humphrey’s MY MOBY DICK (not to mention Herman Melville’s MOBY DICK, the granddaddy of all big-fish stories), THE BRIGHT COUNTRY uses angling as a backdrop for many of life’s more common day-to-day dramas such as the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, and the resulting depression that can sometimes cause a man, to wake up feeling alone in a world afflicted with what Middleton himself calls “the meat bucket blues.”

Middleton’s story is not a happy one. It is a classic American story of a man forced to reckon with himself, with the world, with the misfits and vagrants he encounters along the way. THE BRIGHT COUNTRY is a book inhabited by a cast of characters who seem as if they could only exist in the wildly fertile imagination of a fiction writer prone to fits of schizophrenic wanderings into an underworld of urban flotsam, where streetcorner drunks named Doctor Truth preach the politics of self-illusion while New Age gurus such as Swami Bill spread a gospel of holistic living by selling tourists false totems and talismans of self-wisdom by telling them only what they want to hear. Such encounters could only happen in America, a land of mirages and blind visions. Middleton himself rekindles a sense of personal redemption in his pursuit of a blind brown trout, a near-mythical fish whose milk-curdled cataract eyes were “flooded with light . . . a chaos of light . . . mysterious and bold.” It is a light that lives on through THE BRIGHT COUNTRY, a jeweled light that refuses to burn dim.

The story of THE BRIGHT COUNTRY, like the land itself, has outlived Harry Middleton, who died suddenly of a massive heart attack shortly after THE BRIGHT COUNTRY had gone to print. Readers should listen to the words of Robert Graves: “Blow on a dead man’s embers/ And a live flame will start.” Harry Middleton’s body of work deserves, like the bright country itself, to burn, burn long into the darkness of night.