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Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of A River Runs through It that he is haunted by waters so have readers been haunted by his novella A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70 Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century Originally published in 1976 A River Runs through It and Other Stories now celebrates its twenty fifth anniversary marked by this new edition that includes a foreword by Annie ProulxMaclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the twentieth century As a young man he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service The two novellas and short story in this collection are based on his own experiences—the experiences of a young man who found that life was only a step from art in its structures and beauty The beauty he found was in reality and so he leaves a careful record of what it was like to work in the woods when it was still a world of horse and hand and foot without power saws cats or four wheel drives Populated with drunks loggers card sharks and whores and set in the small towns and surrounding trout streams and mountains of western Montana the stories concern themselves with the complexities of fly fishing logging fighting forest fires playing cribbage and being a husband a son and a father

10 thoughts on “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

  1. says:

    5 stars for the title novella; 3 stars for the other two storiesIt's been over twenty five years since Robert Redford turned the title story in this collection into a film that starred the young rising actor Brad Pitt The movie also starred the canyons and rivers and fish of Montana But I was moved not only by Brad and the scenery but also the poetic narration which freuently uoted the title storyNow nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead but I still reach out to them Then in the Arctic half light of the canyon all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time On some of the rocks are the words and the words are theirsI am haunted by watersI wasn't at all sure what this uote means I'm still not at all sure but I too was haunted Eventually I bought this book as a gift for my husband so I could read it myself of courseThis volume contains two novellas A River Runs Through It and The Ranger the Cook and a Hole in the Sky and a short story Logging and Pimping and 'Your Pal Jim' These are semi autobiographical and often very humorous stories from the author's life in the earlier part of the 1900's one as a 17 year old boy working for the US Forest Service acting as a fire lookout and getting into fights in town; one as a 25 year old logger silently battling all summer with his despicable logging partner; and one as a married man in his thirties fly fishing and trying to better connect with and help his familyLife every now and then becomes literature not for long of course but long enough to be what we best rememberAll three of the stories are full of detailed and occasionally risué descriptions the pimping in the title of the second story is not simply figurative of a way of life that's long since passed They're all interesting sometimes even fascinating but occasionally tedious in the telling of the details hence 4 stars average rather than 5 But it's the title story that transcends mere history and becomes artThen my father asked After you have finished your true stories sometime why don't you make up a story and the people to go with it? Only then will you understand what happened and whyIt is those we live with and love and should know who elude usHaunting Content advisory A couple of F bombs and some other rough talk; discussions of whores and the men who use them and the memorable naked sunburn scene also in the movie

  2. says:

    It took Maclean most of his life to write his first book and it reads as if he’d been saving every beautiful observation about life family and fly fishing for one unforgettable burst I never tire of reading it

  3. says:

    Growing up while the rest of my family hated the movie I have always been inexplicably attracted to its ideas Whenever it was on the TV I had to sneak down to the basement to watch it The film is one of the few out there that can speak to my innermost soul I finally read the book a few years ago and found a profundity that the film barely touched It is difficult to put into words the reason why this is one of the most significant books in my life The plot seems common enough when explained but the writing is finely crafted yet never pretentious It speaks to a subterranean level of spirituality that I believe all people possess but men find nearly impossible to express The book addresses this yearning and salves the wounds without ever explicitly stating what it does or how it is effected A River Runs Through It is the tale of a family in Montana overwhelmed by testosterone and unable to ever fully express the depths of their love for each other except perhaps through their activities For the mother this was primarily through her cooking For the men in the family it was through fishing and not just any fishing but fly fishing This autobiography of sorts relates how Norman and his wife each have a brother who is conscientiously estranged from them and their respective families Some of the most beautiful passages emerge from efforts to help these men and acuire a intimate understanding of them If you allow it reading this can be a truly transformative experience I still find myself crying several times per reading usually unable to fully explain to myself why I always feel myself a better man after I read the last few paragraphs Amazing One of life’s uiet excitements is to stand somewhat apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful Postscript the other stories contained in this anniversary volume are also extremely well written One can easily tell that Maclean was a lit professor and was surely beloved by his students

  4. says:

    I understand why someone would stand in a freezing cold water to fish without a reel because I read this book

  5. says:

    What a beautiful world it was once At least a river of it was and what a joy it turned out to be visiting this world under the guidance of Norman Maclean The joy doesn't ignore the pain and the sadness at the core of the title novella but acknowledges the treasures buried in the text a hard won wisdom and serenity and most of all the satisfaction of a job so well done that it becomes a work of art regardless if it is the capture of a trout with a Bunyan Bug No 2 Yellow Stone Fly a well balanced load on the back of a mule bringing down a tree with a handsaw or writing a novella that may haunt me for a long long time I will steal a word of praise from Annie Proulx who says it so much better than me in the Foreword to the 25th anniversary edition There are few books that have the power to put the reader in such a deep trance that the real world falls utterly away Almost no other author's work reads aloud as well as Maclean's elegiac haunting and tautI believe the explanation of the instant charm these stories have exerted on me can be explained by their long gestation and by the passion for the subject the author has been able to translate into words that flow like his sparkling mountain rivers Maclean first published these stories in his seventies but they were born much earlier in his memories of growing up in Scottish Presbyterian family in Montana in his first jobs as a logger and as a forest warden in his years as a teacher of literature in the stories he told to his children at bedtime or to his coworkers around a campfire So what we are reading now has been told and retold and polished and distilled down to its essence a long time before it was put down on paperEven when the writing was finished and the manuscript sent to the publishers some complained that there were 'too many trees in the story' Who would be interested in reading such detailed accounts about fly fishing or camping out in the wilderness? I have seen some few reviewers here on Goodreads who share in the sentiment but I am in the camp who argues that the story was never about fishing It is about history and about nature about working with your hands it is about family and about friendship about death and about passing the flame of love to the next generation Maclean in his own foreword explains a little about the purpose of the text that of letting children know what kind of people their parents are or think they are or hope they are Note the conditional verb to be to think to hope Writing is not a simple act of taking a snapshot of a significant moment in your life In the retelling the story gets altered the facts rearranged to fit around the core ideas the dialogues streamlined and the revelations explained in a timely manner Like the good fisherman the writer chooses his lure carefully throws the line in the water and then coaxes his catch with a firm hand to the shore to the moral of the story Here's the lure the opening line In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing And then Maclean proceeds to elaborate on this point starting with the father a Scottish Presbyterian minister who first put a fishing rod in his and his brother's hands and then taught them the Cathehism Later the focus moves on the adult relationship between brothers about extended families and the disconnect between generations about the impossibility of full understanding even between the closest of siblings You can love completely without complete understanding The narrator loves his brother Ken than anything in the world yet he is not able to reach across and help him when Ken's wildest part heavy drinking brawling and whoring lands him in trouble Part of the issue is the stoical dour Scottish ancestry that claims men should be capable of taking care of themselves without crying out for help part is the need to allow the other person the freedom to live his own life any way it pleases him Help is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badlyThe outcome of the book is not a secret and revealing that the story ends in tragedy is not a spoiler The author looks back to that troubled time and exorcises the demons of the past through his writing hoping the answers that he found will be of use to the next people that find themselves at a crossroad Proulx notes that the novel is a memoir a reuiem an allegory pointing out both the autobiographical elements and the metaphysical implications of the text As I already said it is not at all a novel about fishing The sport is just the mirror that reflects and points back at the reader the existential uestions each and everyone of us asks himself at one point of hisher life The solitude the silences and the beauty of the scenery serve a similar role to the one the desert offered to the early saints who retreated there from the crowded civilized places The wild rivers of Montana are the haven the Macleans retreat to when the going gets tough and their batteries need recharging The most important passage in the story is probably the description of the river both in technical fishing terms and as a metaphor for life Fishermen also think of the river as having been made with them partly in mind and they talk of it as if it had been They speak of the three parts as a unity and call it a hole and the fast rapids they call the head of the hole and the big turn they call the deep blue or pool and the uiet shallow water below they call the tail of the hole which they think is shallow and uiet so that they can have a place to wade across and try the other sideAs the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other I could feel patterns from my own life joining with them It was here while waiting for my brother that I started this story although of course at the time I did not know that stories of life are often like rivers than books But I knew a story had begun perhaps long ago near the sound of water And I sensed that ahead I would meet someting that would never erode so there would be a sharp turn deep circles a deposit and uietness Being able to recognize the patterns of your life in a ray of sunlight reflecting on moving water may be the most valuable lesson I was able to extract from the book but this just one of the levels at which I was able to enjoy the text The most immediate recognition came from the setting as I have always been atracted by mountains and the holiday of choice for many years has been escaping the city with a backpack and climbing to the places where the cars and the noise and the regular tourists can't easily get When we were silent we could hear the pine needles falling like dry leaves Making the transition from the feelings of awe and peace of mind the mountains have offered time and time again to the thoughts about religion and the meaning of life comes easily when you remove yourself from the stress of modern lifeYet another level of reading the text is the accurate historical account and the scientific observation that is an integral part of recreating the moment of the narrator's last trip together with his father and his brother When he looks at the majestic alpine valley Maclean sees also the slow dance of glaciers across millenia the effects of deforestation the personal histories of the settlers and their economic outlooksI know I said the novel was never about fishing but I come back to my earlier statement and say now that the story is a story about fishing with all the technical details and the moments of joy that the sport offers to the passionate practitioner He liked beaver dams and he knew how to fish them So off he went happily to wade in ooze and to get throttled by brush and to fall through loose piles of sticks called beaver dams and to end up with a wreath of seaweed around his neck and a basketful of fish In a larger sense of the word 'fishing' is a stand in for whatever activity you love doing so much that you don't call it work or hobby or pastime It becomes what you are in the deepest most precious and valuable core of your being it is the answer to how you define your life a builder a writer a dancer a farmer When a natural aptitude a talent for your activity of choice is coupled with your passion the result is Ken the brother whose right shoulder becomes larger than his left whose every movement becomes poetry in motion the artist whose masterpieces are written and gone in a flash of a thin line moving in rhythm from 12 to 2 o'clock I sometimes think of myself as an aspirant photographer so the passage that made the story personal is here It was a beautiful stretch of water either to a fisherman or a photographer although each would have focused his euipment on a different point Here is Maclean in his teacher disguise a fourth ot fifth way of looking at his writing as a textbook for educating a younger generation in how to search for deeper meaning behind the surface images All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren't noticing which makes you see something that isn't even visible The stories in the collection are all reminiscences of his youth but the act of writing was completed after many decades as an English professor and literary critic First his audience were his children then his fellows at university seminars and now the world at large Yet the narrative voice remains unchanged confident and humorous and lyrical The poet is the ultimate and probably the most enduring disguise of the author who listens to the voices of the river that becomes the world The voices of the subterranean river in the shadows were different from the voices of the sunlit river ahead In the shadows against the cliff the river was deep and engaged in profundities circling back on itself now and then to say things over to be sure it had understood itself But the river ahead came out into the sunny world like a chatterbox doing its best to be friendly It bowed to one shore and then to the other so that nothing would feel neglected Anything that comes after the famous final line of the story I am haunted by waters would feel superfluous yet there are two novellas included in the collection As I felt loath to part ways with the world Maclean has created I jumped right into them Both are chronologically earlier set that the title story and both share the autobiographical elements the historical angle of describing a world that has been swallowed my Progress and the central tenet of doing your job so well that it becomes an art To all those who work come moments of beauty unseen by the rest of the world Logging and Pimping and Your Pal Jim describes the logging camps of the early 20th century when trees where felled by hand with long saws handled by two men It is a Man's World of backbreaking work and long months of isolation and harsh humour a world that toughens you up or destroys you Like boot camp it is a rite of passage that euips a young man with the necessary tools to face the larger world gives him the self confidence to face up to bullies and the pride in his prowess that would serve later when he moves from physical labour to studying literature I couldn't help though from being sad at all the forest giants that have been cut down during that period Replace 'fishing' with 'logging' and we have another iteration of the opening theme another parable of the talents another way at looking at life Nearly all our talk was about logging because logging was what loggers talked about They mixed it into everything For instance loggers celebrated the Fourth of July the only sacred holiday in those times except Christmas by contests in logrolling sawing and swinging the ax Their work was their world USFS 1919 The Ranger the Cook and a Hole in the Sky is dedicated to United States Forest Service another school of hard knocks that opened up the mind of a young author Again we have the scenery The mountains of Idaho poems of geology stretching beyond any boundaries and seemingly even beyond the world the talented man whose hands knows all the secrets of his trade Packing is the art of balancing packs and then seeing that they ride evenly otherwise the animals will have saddle sores in a day or two and be out of business for all or most of the summer the isolation the campfires the easy camaraderie the humorous anecdotes the melancholic tune of a world gone by By the middle of that summer when I was seventeen I had yet to see myself become part of a story I had as yet no notion that life every now and then becomes literature not for long of course but long enough to be what we best remember and often enough so that what we eventually come to mean by life are those moments when life instead of going sidewys backwards forward or nowhere at all lines out straight tense and inevitable with a complication climax and given some luck a purgation as if life has been made and not happened USFS 1919 is the closest Maclean comes to writing a classic western story plot driven instead of purely contemplative as the lone hero embarks on a contest of wills with the Cook is mentored by the Ranger mullishly tries to break a record of descending a mountain without drinking any water picks up a waitress in a bar and ultimately clears out a town with his buddies in one of the most original and hilarious saloon fights I've ever read The ruckus is all indirectly described from under a table just by looking at the brawlers' footwear And when that footwear has inch long steel nails designed for climbing up trees you know the fighting is bloody seriousIf the first story was about family relations and the second about a boy becoming a man this last one is about teamwork and friendship Of course being a Maclean story it is also about the joys of working with your hands and getting satisfaction from a job well done We were a pretty good crew and we did what we had to do and loved the woods without thinking we owned them and each of us liked to do at least one thing especially well liked to swing a jackhammer and feel the earth overpowered by dynamite liked to fight liked to heal the injuries of horses liked to handle groceries and tools and tie knots And nearly all of us liked to work When you think about it that's a lot to say about a bunch of men But the story is also about the Whole in the Sky the catharsis the epiphany the looking beyond appearances the illumination of your soul that standing on the highest peak after an arduous climb can bring on It is surprising how much our souls are alike at least in the presence of mountains For all of us mountains turn into images after a short while and the images turn true This is as good a place as any to stop my review noting as others have done before me that the effort of extracting the meaning through only a few separate uotes is unsatisfactory given the elegance of the presentation and the careful construction of the stories where each step is determined by the one that came before it Looking at only the bend of the river means ignoring the bigger picture that Maclean planned to the last detail to the last metaphor and comma Read the whole set of novellas they are uite short for the wealth of wisdom and emotion they contain and please don't stay away because you probably never held a fishing rod in your hand I'll let the author have the last selling pitch This then in summary is a collection of Western stories with trees in them for children experts scholars wives of scholars and scholars who are poets I hope there are others also who don't mind trees

  6. says:

    I cannot believe the excellence of the writing I am totally blown over I thought I would read the first novella the one referred to in the title and then put the book aside This was impossible I had to have Containing A River Runs Through It 5 stars without a doubtLogging and Pimping and “Your Pal Jim” 4 starsUSFS 1919 The Ranger the Cook and a Hole in the Sky 5 starsThe first and the third are semi autobiographical novellasNorman Maclean 1902 1990 began writing fiction in his seventies His prose captures what life has taught him—appreciation of the outdoors the value of friendship and straight talk The words are not fancy but they get under the surface and reveal what is important Relationships between people are laid bare What one feels out alone in nature is what is drawn rather than just what one sees I love this book for its lines which express wisdom humor and what is important in lifeThe author has begun with experiences in his own life has added a bit here subtracted a bit there made alterations and thought about what he wants said Magically he finds himself “slipping out of life into a story” These are his words not mineFly fishing life as a lumberjack and as a fire fighter are what the stories are about Also the relationship between father and son and brother to brother Friendship working in a team and becoming a man Poker betting a cardsharp cribbage and drinking and brawling come into the picture too The stories are almost devoid of dialog We follow the thoughts of each story’s narrator; in the two novellas this is the author Norman Maclean The settings are Montana and Idaho If you find you relate to the author’s way of thinking the telling flows naturally as the flow of a river If you don’tyou may view the stories as boring monologues The audiobook is narrated by David Manis I like the narration very much I felt as though Norman were talking to me He is telling us his thoughts I felt his emotions The reading is clear and easy to followuotes“In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen and we were left to assume as my brother and I did that all first class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John the favorite was a dry fly fisherman” “Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same uestion We are willing to help Lord but what if anything is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or often than not the part we have to give is not wanted And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us But we can still love them we can love completely without complete understanding” “Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help We are probably those referred to as our brother's keepers possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting instincts It will not let us go”“Slowly we became silent and silence itself is an enemy to friendship”Suddenly I realized I had been scared for a long time because I wasn't scared anyThe men at the draw poker table wore Stetsons Each had a Stetson whose brim was big bigger or biggest “Just like olives the smallest are always called largeIt is funny how many non funny jokes we make to ourselvesYou know I wasn't very well while all this was happeningAs far as I knew no one ever before had fainted except women and then only in booksDr Charles Richie in a Stetson too says You come to see me late tomorrow morning in my office You hear? If you don't come tomorrow I'll charge you for tonight If you come tomorrow I won't charge you for tomorrow or tonight All I want to know is that you are alrightThis is just the beginning; the tale becomes funnier and funnier as it continues The last uote is from the third story

  7. says:

    When I was a kid my grandma had this pinched copper wind up train You gave it a couple cranks and the engine would circle the station while the music box churned a mournful tune For reasons I couldn't explain then and can only slightly explain now the train always made me sad That's how I felt while reading Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It and Other Stories It's not the obvious tragedy in the first and most famous story in the collection that got me feeling this way Rather it's the elegiacal tone the sense of an old man looking back at a time that was gone for him and to which he could never return Norman Maclean spent just about his whole life as an English professor at the University of Chicago Late in life his wife of 37 years died and shortly thereafter he retired from his job and completed these three stories A River Runs Through It Logging and Pimping and Your Pal Jim and USFS 1919 The Ranger the Cook and a Hole in the Sky The stories arrived like lightning from the clear blue sky because this was a guy in his 70s suddenly showing this amazing talent It's not really surprising he waited so long though I don't think Maclean could have written these stories any earlier He needed to wait until his wife was gone and he was approaching his own death because the subtle mission of these tales is an attempt to understand the people he loved who were now dead and gone Similarly Maclean's meditation on the young smoke jumpers who died in Mann Gulch can be found in the awesome Young Men and Fire A River Runs Through It is about Maclean's brother Paul who was murdered in 1938 It is the best piece of the collection and transports you to early 20th century Montana in a way that will make you want to take up fly fishing and find a time machine The first lines pull you in In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing But this isn't a book about fly fishing it's about a brother that was loved but not understood This isn't clear at first and you are lulled into thinking this is a rosy memoir of a couple kids growing up wild fishing and drinking and fishing and going to church and fishing It's told with a dry wit though every so often Maclean turns on the elouence as in this description of the art of fly fishingBelow Paul was the multitudinous river and where the rock had parted it around him big grained vapor rose The mini molecules of water left in the wake of his line made momentary loops of gossamer disappearing so rapidly in the rising big grained vapor that they had to be retained in memory to be visualized as loops The spray emanating from him was finer grained still and enclosed him in a halo of himself The halo of himself was always there and always disappearing as if he were candlelight flickering about three inches from himselfThere's a little of Hemingway in the way Maclean writes There are pages of fairly terse on the nose storytelling interspersed with these soaring passages that can really give you the shivers especially if you can imagine as I was Robert Redford narrating The end of the book is powerful and underlined by one of my favorite passages in all of book dom Of course now I am too old to be much of a fisherman and now of course I usually fish the big waters aloneI often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening Then in the Arctic half light of the canyon all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops Under the rocks are the words and some of the words are theirs After this novella the rest is to be honest anticlimax Reading the next two stories reminded me of a Boy Scout trip I'd taken in my youth We went to Banff in Alberta Canada There we saw the snow capped mountains and the turuoise lakes and wondered at the marvel of it all Then we drove through Saskatchewan The other two stories included in this collection are Saskatchewan Of them I liked Logging and Pimping the least It's about a logger named Jim that Maclean meets while working for the Anaconda Company along the Blackfoot River The tone which could be called raunchy by Maclean standards feels a little off There is actually nothing raunchy at all in the story other than the implicit acknowledgment that people have sex Maclean self consciously takes on a tougher posture closely resembling Hemingway's short stories about the Michigan peninsula The problem is this is a pose that doesn't really fit Maclean's reflective style The last story is a big improvement I'd liken it to spending a day on the lake drinking beer and fishing There's no real point to the exercise but it makes you feel good for some reason or another This yarn recounts Maclean's days working for the Forest Service This was back in the days when being in the Forest Service didn't reuire anything but the willingness to hop on a mule and go camp by yourself in the forest for weeks on end The fact that this is no longer possible and I will never get to do this at least get paid for it makes me really depressed I can't think of anything better than throwing some food and a book into my battered frame pack and tromping along a narrow switchback to a valley camp with a view of the mountains and the infinite sky Dear wife it's a guy thing and not personal Maclean is in his element when he is describing and he falters a bit when he tries to swagger his use of the f word is jarring and out of place I got a little bored as he described an endless card game with the titular cook On the other hand I was always up for listening to Maclean talk about the mountains In the late afternoonthe mountains meant all business for the lookouts The big winds were veering from the valleys toward the peaks and smoke from little fires that had been secretly burning for several days might show up for the first time New fires sprang out of thunder before it sounded By three thirty or four the lightning would be flexing itself on the distant ridges like a fancy prizefighter skipping sideways ducking showing off but not hitting anything By four thirty or five it was another game You could feel the difference in the air that had become hard to breathe The lightning now came walking into you delivering short smashing punchesReading Maclean always reignites my smoldering desire to head out for the mountains and find a trail head that isn't packed with day trippers who just piled out of their Escalades and motor homes This is especially true as I write this with the first breath of spring washing over the land These stories serve a helpful reminder that there are other places besides the dreary dingy courthouse where I spend my days Maclean's writing is second best to actually walking the mountain trails hearing the distant rumble of water through a canyon and seeing so many stars overhead that you are forced to utter an expletive in wonder at it all

  8. says:

    I really really fucking hate to fish but Can you end a sentence with but? Did I write that correctly with the uotation marks? Do you see what I'm doing here? I'm using humor to avoid talking about my real feelings When I first read this book I was on a cross country flight I was just finishing it when we began our descent I was tearing up and not because I was glad to see the sprawl of Los Angeles again That last part when he is out fishing alone and everyone he knew and loved was deadhow can that not just rip you up? Years later I was watching the movie while I was entertaining friends at home At the end of the film my girlfriend at the time asked me if I was crying Jesus I thought she was going to kick my ass for that one I told her I had something in my eye I AM NOT A SISSY I lift weights god damn it

  9. says:

    This is one of my favorite of all books best known for the novella that opens the book and provides its title It may be a book that could only have been written by someone in his seventies as Maclean was when he began it On the surface it's a story about Maclean his gifted but fundamentally flawed brother their father the land that they loved and the religion of fly fishing that bound them together But it's also a book that has a great deal to say about the bonds that tie family members together and about the heartache that can result when one of those family members desperately needs help that none of the others is able to giveMost of all it's about the memories and relationships that one forges during the course of a long and interesting life as told from the bittersweet perspective of the last survivor It's a beautifully written book spare and lean with passages on virtually every page that will dazzle and haunt a reader long after he or she has finished reading it

  10. says:

    One of the greatest failures of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was the prize committee's decision not to award any prize in 1977 A jury of writers had read the year's best fiction and had presented Maclean's novella to the prize committee the committee who votes on every prize as their winner The prize committee was unable to come to a majority decision and when this happens they simply don't award the prize that year It's happened a few times the most recent in 2013 but it's that 1977 decision that most baffles me as Maclean's story is brilliant and beautiful I have read every Pulitzer fiction winner and finalist from 2000 to the present and of those years generally a year has 3 finalists one of which is the winner A River Runs Through It not only belongs but still manages to stand outThe novella is a nostalgic look back at Maclean's youth and young adulthood in early 20th century Montana and while you'll often hear this book described as one about fly fishing this is not so Yes you'll read about fly fishing but it is simply the vehicle Maclean uses to tie his family and their experiences together The sons of a minister Norman and his brother Paul learn to fly fish from their strict but loving father and he instructs them in such a way that they spend memorable time with their father and each other Both become excellent fishermen and in their 20's about the only time they spend together is fly fishing with Norman being married and Paul having moved about 40 miles awayMaclean has a rare talent for story telling and is a brilliant observer These observations color his stories and he is able to describe a scene so vividly that at times this book feels photographic I read to feel I don't necessarily care about plot or action or twists though I have nothing against those things they're important I can feel what Maclean writes almost as if I were experiencing it myself His prose is at times transcendent and though he may simply be relating an anecdote about his wife being angry with him they'll have a two sentence exchange that thoroughly transmits the feel of a good and happy marriage so apt based on my own experiences that I sense his message at my core A simple sit down next to his father yields a brief conversation that strikes at the very heart of a father's love for his son and a son's for his father Though on the surface they appear to be speaking of fishing Maclean has essentially used his novella to construct a Rosetta Stone for the language of the soul and much deeper meanings are intuitedPerhaps what I find most meaningful about A River Runs Through It is its recognition that though the universe may seem callous and cruel life is still often beautiful and that the people that make it worth living are also often the ones at the center of our hard times Maclean also recognizes the renewing power of nature and its ability to help us find focus and purpose Yes I read to feel and I stand in awe of a talent like Maclean whose ability to almost secretly convey such depths of human emotion in the relating of seemingly simple anecdotes has few peers