Introduction to James Scott
“Downstream” accomplishes several things I find deeply pleasing. First and foremost, it allows me to spend time in the company of a character whose wit and determination I admire from the opening paragraph. Almost everyone seems to be against Clay—his parents, his grandparents, his neighbor, the local shopkeeper—but, however many slings and arrows come his way, Clay refuses to live up to his name; he refuses to be downtrodden. He hangs onto the belief that none of this is his fault. And eventually he finds some unlikely allies.
The story also introduces me to a new art form, the art of noodling, which is hard to master. To noodle is to catch catfish with one’s bare hands, and the descriptions of how this is accomplished are wonderfully vivid and visceral. I think of Tolstoy’s definition of art: that the job of art is to allow the reader to experience actions and emotions that he has not had at first hand. The fierce, whiskered fish rise out of the muddy water with the intensity of a dream. They prove Clay’s courage and they change his life.
Lastly, the story introduces me to James Scott’s vigorous prose, which simultaneously conveys Clay’s inner and outer lives with an admirable lack of sentimentality and specificity of detail. I appreciate the immediacy of the narrative and Scott’s unswerving devotion to his character. This is Clay’s story, his world.