Wednesday, October 31, 2012


An enormously successful executive with Columbia TriStar Television, Joe Kissack had the good life and more. He had a successful career syndicating shows such as Seinfeld, Walker, Texas Ranger etc. Yet there was an emptiness within. Born to a hammer of a man for whom everything looked like a nail, Kissack grew up fearing and hating his own father, yet desperate for his approval.

Gradually the emptiness began to consume him, and Kissack found himself resorting to the numbing comfort provided by alcohol and prescription drugs to relieve the anxiety and depression.

Miles away in another country, but not around the same time, another situation was brewing, in which some other men would also find themselves lost and helpless.

These five fishermen sailing in a fibreglass boat had launched off a town on the west coast of Mexico. They were out on a three-day fishing expedition, but were carrying four days worth of canned food, just in case the fishing turned out to be really good, besides tools and other supplies.

While at sea, the fisherman faced a storm that was the weather equivalent of, in Kissack's words, "going twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. An angry Mike Tyson" The storm took away four days worth of canned food and some tools. A few odds and ends and Salvador's Bible were all that remained. In this condition, they drifted on for days. The lack of potable water made it difficult for them to swallow. While the others started drinking seawater and suffered the consequences of this wrong move, Salvador drank his own urine.

Later he killed a sea turtle, a task in which he received able assistance from fishermen Jesus Vidana and Lucio Rendon. The three then ate the flesh of the sea turtle in order to stay alive and drank its blood in a bid to stay hydrated. Fisherman Farsero and the owner and captain of the ship, Juan David Lorenzo, who could not bring themselves to consume raw flesh and blood and thereby adapt to the situation die very quickly of starvation.

Salvador, Jesus and Lucio meanwhile drifted for nine months, reaching roughly six thousand miles away from the point at which they started before being rescued by a Taiwanese ship crew.

The first twelve chapters alternate between the story of Kissack and that of the fishermen. From then on the chapters concentrate solely on Kissack's situation, as he seeks validation, struggling to fight against the verbal abuse that he suffered as a child. Depression and anxiety, as a result of the pressures of the job and his own unresolved issues, surface. From this point, the story of the fishermen is discussed from Kissack’s point of view.

The writing is honest and takes you into the empty turmoil of the successful TV executive who is enslaved by his own success. Parts of the book, however, are better written than others.

The Fourth Fisherman of the title refers to Kissack himself. The reference isn’t immediately obvious, and Kissack himself makes note of it only at the very end. In fact, it is the last line of the epilogue. Consequently, I went through some confusion at the beginning, since the second chapter of the book clearly speaks about five fishermen on board the boat.

Kissack attempts to draw parallels between his own situation and that of the fishermen, implying that they were both lost in different ways, and were rescued by faith. The helplessness of the fishermen, however, was an actual, real-time instance of being lost, as opposed to Kissack’s situation where he was lost in a spiritual sense.

If Kissack meant to write a book about himself, his depression and subsequent acceptance of God in his life, and his attempts to make a Hollywood film on the fishermen in the face of obstacles, it would have been better if he had not given us so many details about the Mexicans. After alternating six chapters of his own story with six chapters of that of the fishermen, I was greatly disappointed to find the focus suddenly shifting to Kissack.

The story of three men drifting on the waters for nine long months would have been a far more moving portrayal of the way in which faith can sustain humans when there is no hope. It would certainly have been a far more riveting read than one in which the low point is when Kissack’s wife’s Lexus needs to be sold. 

Eventually, it is the faith that shines through. Lucio's grandmother, Panchita, believes that he is alive and never stops praying for him or setting a place for him at the dinner table. Salvador’s faith helps to ignite the faith of Jesus and Lucio. And Kissack's faith helps him to be a better man, a better husband and father.

The Fourth Fisherman is above all the story of that faith.

I received a copy of The Fourth Fisherman for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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