Edward Bloom is dying and his son William would like a real moment with his dad before he dies. They weren’t particularly close growing up, although Edward did the usual dad activities with William and felt an obligation to teach his son values.
Like many sons, William doesn’t really know his father. He knows these tall tales and jokes. Williams wants a one moment with the real man versus the legend or myth. His dad is dying, so time is running out. William rehearses his final conversation with dad several times.
William narrates the book by recounting the tall tales that his father told him. Growing up Edward wants to be great, a big fish. These tall tales depict Edward as special, but they also illustrate the virtues that Edward wants to teach William: perseverance, ambition, personality, optimism, strength, intelligence, and imagination.
Edward was born under special circumstances. He tames a giant. She saves a woman from a snake. He goes swimming deep under the water with a catfish. He sees a magical girl in the river early on and again, when he is a sailor thrown from a ship, a girl underwater guides him to safety; it’s a mythic writing convention … a goddess watching over him.
And like Hercules, Edward has his Three Labors. He worked as a veterinarian’s assistant, as a sales clerk and once saved a little girl from a mean dog.
The book is whimsical, but it was a little sad too. For me, I saw a good man who had dreams and eventually became weary of the world when he stopped having his adventures and maybe started having regrets. Nostalgia for a time gone by, forgotten.
When he tried to leave his hometown of Ashland, he faced resistance. People try to talk him into staying, like others who had given up their dreams.
“You get used to it. That’s what this place is all about, Edward. Getting used to things.”
“It’s not what I want,” he said.
“That too,” he said. “You get used to that too.”
The book is funny too. When he sets out to see the world, he gets beat up bad. That wasn’t funny, but he ended up at a store, bloodied and battered. But before asking for help, he just starts cleaning up the place. The storeowners appreciate his hard work. He has worked himself to distraction, the people hold him as he is about to pass out, when Edward says, “Advertise.”
He invents the concept of buy-one-get-one and the store becomes successful.
Near the end of the book, Edward buys a town and visits regularly staying with a different resident. I didn’t quite get this part, except that he was feeling nostalgic. But that’s when he met and fell in love with Jenny Hill; she was his true love. He’s older, she’s younger and they love each other. He sees her when he can; he’s a traveling salesman, but he eventually stops and the swamp swallows up her house.
Some of the reviews I read make it sounds like she was a girlfriend who he met, fell in love with, then left, when he met, fell in love with Miss Sandra Kay Templeton. But he met Sandy in college.
I guess I didn’t understand that part. Was Jenny his first love or his affair?
Dad never did stop telling jokes. He didn’t give William that moment of realness; maybe he felt that keeping William at an arm’s length would keep William from being disappointed with the real man versus the myth. How completely can we ever know someone?
The author said, “The story is less about the truth of what happened than how each of us understands what’s true, if anything is, and what’s important for us to believe.”
The book finishes with the son taking the dad to the river where he dies. Or swims away, depending on your point of view.