I got an email from Brian D'Ambrosia at Far Country Press in Montana, asking me to review Confessions of a Camo Queen: Living with an Outdoorsman by Kristen Berube. Since I knew nothing about the book, I emailed back that, as he offered, he could go ahead and mail a copy. Within a week or so, two copies came, and I opened the pages of one of them to begin perusing the type, recognizing instantly an energetic, smart style with quick turns of phrase.
The concept felt familiar. Women everywhere laugh at men, but outdoorsmen pose the situation in high contrast. There's nothing more manly, besides boxing or bullfighting perhaps, than outdoor pursuits, and I bet there's no other book quite like Kristen's to rollick from the first page to the last with snarky humor from a wife's point of view that never lets down with details that spare no reader.
Brian suggested I phone Kristen and sent me some photos of she and her husband, the two of them the focus of this book that reveals a relationship as active and engaged as nature itself. She never needs to leave Montana in this book and never does, creating a story as fully complete as a lifetime. Nevertheless, she and her husband have traveled to fish in Alaska, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas and elsewhere for everything from rainbow trout to sailfish.
The chapters are short vignettes that often end on ironic surprises, every one of them packed with events that get right to the point and never let up, strikingly visual and entertaining. And believe me, these chapters will engage all of your senses. Kristen told me, "I was up late with one of my kids, entertaining one of my kids with these stories, when I got the idea."
Just like that, she had a book.
Near the beginning of Camo Queen, "Rowing Lessons" is my favorite chapter. I don't want to give away too much before you might read the book, but I'll say that this chapter made me wonder how much experience fishing and otherwise in the outdoors the author had to begin with. (The closing chapter reveals that like many people in Montana, she's had some all her life, and loves all of it.) "Rowing Lessons" opens with the wife rowing, the husband casting and giving directions. The end of the chapter, which entertains in the middle of it the hook-up of a nice trout on a fly rod, is a reversal, so the reader gets the feel of the wife taking control and not just observing--and laughing--as an outsider.
Kristen told me, "I grew up in Montana; it's kinda just the lifestyle. I've always gone fishing. Definitely more since I met him."
Hunting and camping, too. "Toothbrushes? Showers? Not Shaving? Oh, My!" entertains a climactic scene that lets you know how cold a bucket of ice water from a creek for a shower can feel. And though her husband bagged ducks for real on the outing described in "Is my Booty Frozen Off?", Kristen captured them for readers in a way perhaps more memorable than the meals served.
Out of curiosity, I asked about largemouth bass fishing in Montana, since to our reckoning back East, the landscape and waterways--besides elk hunting opportunities--is all about trout. Not for Kristen and her husband, and she put smallmouths and walleye in the picture, too. "There's kinda two ways to go about it here. Fly fishermen who don't want to touch any other approaches, and those who go for largemouths and smallmouths, walleye. We're kinda in the middle."
Sounds like the Litton's Lines brand. Break all the fences, use anything. Unless I'm as busy this spring as I am now, I'll be fly fishing one day, trolling plugs another, but not in Montana where my son and I have dreamed of...trout rivers.
And most of us who fish in New Jersey visit Cabelas in Hamburg, Pennsylvania off Interstate 78. Another favorite Camo Queen chapter is "The Bible." At first, I cringed, but I didn't quite expect the worst. It's not that I have no respect for the religious text, quite the contrary, so long as it's a good edition. The King James and the New International versions, among dozens of others, vary in meaning as the style shifts, so I'm not one to believe any of it is the sole word of God. If God is omnipotent, why would the word of God be limited to one book? And only supposedly that, since all through the centuries, The Bible has changed.
No, The Bible is a hardbound Cabela's catalogue!
I asked if a number of Cabela's showrooms exist in Montana. "Before, the closest was an hour away. Now they actually have one in our town. So it's no shortage of severe excitement."
There's got to be a better way to pay for gear. "Pipe Dreams" reminded me of the situation between me and my wife. She's lived with the fear that I would try and quit my day job to make it as a writer, and of course I began my writing on how to fish and still write this way a great deal. There's other possibilities too--photography, merchandizing. Well, Kristen has a list to contend with, and every example is worth a laugh.
I think as Kristen does that all of us really passionate about the outdoors live especially tuned into possibilities of alternatives to day jobs, or at least, if any one of us sat on a rock and let the flow through the pipe, we would be, though none of them seem to pan out. The outdoors is the big, God-given world, and we straddle the edge between all the resources and civilization. So it's no wonder we can get big ideas. It's not just physical stuff that we take from nature, but all of our dreams.
With this in mind, I told Kristen, "Most people would think getting a book published is a pipe dream, and yet you've done it! You really have a presence in this book!"
And she has more to come, we hope. She's thinking of a sequel, and an outdoors cookbook.
An easy link to Amazon to buy a copy if you want some laughs would seem to suffice, but if you can find the book locally, try and support bookshops that need business more than the invisible giant. Besides, you can type the book's title and Far Country Press into your browser and order direct.