The Contest by James Hurley is like fishing: consider the first 50 pages as preparation for the first cast. I’ve never liked all the preparation that goes into a fishing experience, I just like to fish, and Hurley’s novel began a bit slowly for me.
But I hooked my first fish on page 50, and after that, I couldn’t leave the water.
This seems like an appropriate analogy because the novel, published by Islandport Press in Yarmouth, is about a group of anglers in the Samuel Tippett Fly Fishers Club in a small Maine town. It’s about trout, fishing, river ecology and conservation, and friendships, with some important and insightful lessons of life rising to the surface.
I read the entire novel while in the cardiac unit at the local hospital, suffering an erratic heartbeat. I don’t think that had anything to do with the novel. But it does get exciting once you’re in the water.
When the club tackles the question of selecting the perfect fly, and decides to make its collective decision with a contest pitting the club’s dry fly fans against it’s wet fly lovers, a lot goes wrong, especially between club members contending for various prizes.
Amidst it all, the novel explores, in a fascinating way, the wisdom of chasing perfection. A compelling read, I couldn’t wait to get to the final chapters to find out how the contest ended and if the Club survived.
Hurley, a writer, visual artist, and musician – and of course, an avid fly fisherman – summed it up beautifully with this quote, from Samuel Tippett: “I truly believe that a river without the beauty of trout is no river at all.”
I like his thinking as much as I liked his novel.