Ann McMan – Backcast


When sculptor and author Barb Davis is given an NEA grant to pair original feminist sculptures with searing first-person essays on transitions in women’s lives, she organizes a two week writing retreat with twelve of the best, brightest, and most notorious lesbian authors in the business.  But in between regularly scheduled happy hours and writing sessions, the women enter a tournament bass fishing competition, receive life coaching from a wise-cracking fish named Phoebe, and uncover a subterranean world of secrets and desires that is as varied and elusive as the fish that swim in the waters of Lake Champlain.  

Set on the beautiful shores of Vermont’s Lake Champlain, Backcast is richly populated with an expansive cast of endearing and outrageous characters characters who battle writer’s block, quirky locals, personal demons, unexpected attractions, and even each other during their two-week residency. For Barb and each of her twelve writers, the stakes in this fast-moving story are high, but its emotional and romantic payoffs are slow and sweet. 

Filled with equal parts laugh-out-loud humor and breathtaking pathos, Backcast serves up a sometimes irreverent, sometimes sobering look at the hidden lives of women, and how they laugh, love, lose, and blunder through their own search for meaning.

I didn’t think it would be possible to beat Jericho, but it looks like Jeri Cho will be sharing her pedestal. Honestly, I was floored by the storytelling in Backcast. What an unexpected surprise this book turned out to be. Ever watch a movie at the theater, then end up turning the plot over in your mind days after seeing it? This is that type of story. And what’s even better is that it’s the kind of story in which the readers can gain a new perspective with every reread. I’ve finished one reading, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on what Ann McMan is trying to convey within its pages.

Reading the book jacket, you might feel a little overwhelmed with the number of narratives contained in Backcast (13 in total). I wondered if there were too many cooks in that kitchen, and whether or not the dinner would end up palatable. Let’s just say that Backcast is the equivalent of a 12-course meal served at a Chinese wedding. Party. In. Your. Mouth. Or rather, party in your brain. Between chapters are the personal essays that the characters have written for the project. In the beginning, I was racking my brain trying to figure out which of the characters wrote each of the essays. I felt like I was playing a game of Clue, and losing… badly. It seemed like the essays could’ve been written by anyone. Hell, it could’ve even been written by Phoebe, the giant fish in the lake.

It wasn’t until I was about halfway in that I realized that identifying the source was only secondary to what these stories meant collectively. These stories are our stories. These are our painful experiences and transitions. It can happen to you, it can happen to me, and we’ve all experienced (directly or indirectly) its aftermath. Backcast illustrates how interconnected we are as women and as human beings, and your heart will fill with compassion for all of its characters. There were two stories in particular that made me tear up at the end. When it was revealed who the authors were in the appendix, I was a mess.

If there’s only one novel you’re going to read this year, make it this one.

1. Jonsi – Go Do
2. X Ambassadors – Renegades
3 Handsome Ghost – Blood Stutter
4. The Books feat. Jose Gonzalez – Cello Song
5. Morcheeba – The Sea
6. Husky – Tidal Wave
7. Ryan Adams – Night Birds
8. Shins – It’s Only Life
9. Phox – Slow Motion
10. Zero 7 – Destiny
11. Alt-J – Lovely Day
12. Groove Armada – At the River
13. Jose Gonzalez – Stay Alive

This book is best served with a….

PABST BLUE RIBBON  It’s perfect if you’re planning on taking Backcast for company on your next early a.m fishing trip. Pabst tastes like corn flakes and cereal is a breakfast meal. Voila.


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