The first thing I ever read by Ian Frazier was his piece in The Atlantic on Minneapolis’ Mall of America. It arrived in a care package my sister-in-law brought over when she came to France to visit in the spring of ’02. By then, Frazier had already written Great Plains and On the Rez, his two books on the Sioux and other tragic aspects of the American West. He had yet to publish The Fish’s Eye, a collection of his essays on angling, which includes a story about catching his largest trout ever on a river that ran through a golf course, and another on a stream that ran in back of a place called Les Schwab Tires. Not your usual Isaak Walton stuff, to be sure.
Frazier was in town a couple of weeks ago, touring his latest, the very epic Travels in Siberia. This Land audio producer Abby Wendle interviewed him at the Ambassador Hotel and brought me along for lit fanboy cred. We arranged the furniture of the Patrick Hurley Library—a smallish, forgotten-looking space we had all to ourselves—and settled in for more than an hour’s chat. We talked a lot about Russia, where Abby has lived, which lit a fire in Frazier, and about Ohio, where they both grew up.
I mainly sat back in awe. Frazier is, in a literary age being turned on its ear, one of the greats. In person, he’s shorter than I expected but otherwise the guy in his author photos. He read for us, a passage from a story in his New Yorker collection, called “Out of Ohio,” and his voice ran as fluidly as one of his favorite trout streams. I knew he was once a famous drinker, but had stopped, so I asked him if he missed it. He said he did not, and that he now sleeps much better.
He also said he ate the fish he caught, which I imagined to be a lot of fish over the years, if Frazier is anywhere near as meticulous an angler as he is a writer.
Oh, the one place where he fishes and catches fish but does not eat them—the East River, the body that separates Manhattan from Brookyln.