As a late teen, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road held some brief appeal for me as as an adventurous departure from the confines of my high school assigned reading list. As I grew older, and read more of Burroughs, Ginsberg, Cassady, and Kerouac in their later years, I couldn’t help but find in the book’s narrative an extended prologue to lives wrecking on shore.
Fortunately, another travel narrative with a similar title later took its stead. I first read David DiBenedetto’s On the Run about a decade ago and have reread it several times since. It is the first person story of DiBenedetto temporarily leaving behind his journalism career to follow the fall striped bass run down the East Coast.
His book is set in the autumn of 2001, the year of the terrorist attacks of September 11. They play no small part in adding tragic poignancy to his travels. At one point in the later chapters he is fishing New York Harbor while the aftermath of the World Trade Center strikes smolders visibly above the lower Manhattan skyline.
At each stop on his journey from Maine to North Carolina, he reaches out to a local member of the legion of striped bass fishermen who line the coast. Often while fishing alongside them, he hears stories of lives colored by the pursuit of a fish.
DiBenedetto departs from his linear descent south to delve deeply into those stories, and his book is all the better for the detours. Through those he meets he also frames the larger story of the fish and its struggle to merely survive alongside the humans that fight to protect it, and a burgeoning coastal populace that, unwittingly or otherwise, foils its efforts to thrive.
As the spring trout stockings are set to begin in much of the East, the book can help mark the time until opening day or provide fitting streamside reading once it arrives. – Tom Flynn