Author blends styles in story about David Starr Jordan

  • "Why Fish Don't Exist," by Lulu Miller. (Simon & Schuster/TNS)

Star Tribune
Published: 1/13/2021 8:57:58 AM

National Public Radio contributor Lulu Miller charts her rebound from a breakup in Why Fish Don’t Exist that is part biography, part murder mystery, part an attempt to figure out what’s happening in her own heart.

The biography is of taxonomist David Starr Jordan, a hero of hers who inspires the book’s title (the argument is that salmon and koi do, indeed, exist but there is so much variety in the classification of “fish” that it isn’t scientifically useful).

But she discovers he had an extremely disappointing dark side. Long story short: He was a bigot and could have been a murderer but his chaotic career provides an unexpected example for Miller — and us — because it underscores the beauty of curiosity, of doubt.

Searching for happiness, Miller learns to question everything she thought was true about herself since, as she puts it, “If fish don’t exist, what else don’t we know about our world?”

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