James Dodson, best-selling author of Final Rounds: A Father, a Son, the Golf Journey of a Lifetime, takes to the road once again in his delightful new book, Faithful Travelers. This time, he invites readers along on a fly-fishing pilgrimage with his precocious 7-year-old daughter Maggie and aging retriever Amos, a search for “big trout and big answers” in waters from Vermont to Michigan to Wyoming. From the start of this warm, witty, and insightful book, it is obvious that Faithful Travelers is much more than an entertaining travelogue. At heart, it is a meditation on fatherhood and family life today, set against the Snake, San Juan, and other well-known fly-fishing rivers.
Facing an imminent divorce from his wife of ten years, Dodson sets out to make sense of the changing landscape of his life “a Wild West of unexpected dangers and ambushing emotions” for both himself and Maggie. The book's most moving moments come as father and daughter struggle to deal with the grief, anger, and confusion caused by the break-up. “You swore to me that you and Mommy would never get a divorce,” cries his anguished daughter in one heartbreaking scene. “Don't you remember that?” Dodson writes with engaging candor, and readers will empathize with him as he wistfully watches his daughter examine his wedding ring, fields questions about whether he plans to marry again, and grapples with the emotional scars of promises broken.
For all that, there is plenty of humor here. Dodson clearly enjoys his daughter's company, and his portrayal of her adventures is both amusing and endearing. The indomitable Maggie writes letters to both Pocahontas and the President, hangs out with Hell's Angels, and manages to stay comfortably ahead of her father in the Beatle Challenge, their made-up game of Fab Four music trivia.
The pair encounter many colorful characters in their wanderings, and Dodson's ear for dialogue and eye for detail help bring them alive. He also introduces us to interesting people from his own past, including Saint Cecil, a bullnecked, white-haired “lefty preacher” who taught him to fly-cast by reciting Frost's “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Near the end of their journey, Dodson writes a long, heartfelt letter to his daughter containing the best wisdom he has to offer on life, love, and families. “Being with you like this has helped me laugh and figure out a few things,” Dodson writes. “That's what families do, you know help each other laugh and figure out problems that sometimes seem to have no answer.” Readers will be glad that Dodson has allowed them to join his family on this remarkable trip.
Reviewed by Beth Duris.