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Book Club Wed Jan 14 2009

February 2009 Selection: A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

When he was past the age of 70, Norman Maclean published his first novel. Though he worked on other literary ambitions and served as a professor of English at the University of Chicago for the preceding forty-some years, it wasn't until Maclean recounted the stories about his brother and father that he used to tell to his children that the novel came to fruition. A River Runs Through It focuses on the male Macleans' shared passion for fly fishing, told from Norman's point of view and providing a vivid portrait of his troubled younger brother Paul. Through much of story Norman questions whether there is something more he can offer Paul, whether there is something else he can do to help him get his life back on track, but much like the battles they forge together in the waters, he can do no more than let Paul flow whichever way he chooses.

As the sons of a Presbyterian minister, the idea of fishing was never far from the idea of piety - Christ's followers were, after all, fishermen. The elder Maclean's passion for religion was matched only by his passion for fly fishing and Norman recalls that he and his brother received as many hours in fishing instruction as they did in "all other spiritual matters." Much of the story centers around these fishing experiences where Maclean often applies the perils and pitfalls of fishing to his greater worldview: "Poets talk about 'spots of time,' but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone. I shall remember that son of a bitch forever." A pretentious and inexperienced brother-in-law serves as a bit of comic relief on one of the Maclean brothers' trips, but mostly it is Maclean's thoughts on life, the waters, and his brother's clear need for help that carry us through this narrative.

At barely over a hundred pages, A River Runs Through It is a brief but intense journey into the mind of a lifelong fisherman. Each reader's acquaintance with and interest in fishing may differ, but Maclean's descriptions of the glorious landscapes around him and his tugging family concerns will be attractive and familiar to all. A River Runs Through It is frequently published with two additional stories* - "Logging and Pimping and 'Your pal, Jim'" and "USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky." In the former, Maclean recounts the summer of 1928 while he was in graduate school and working as a logger for the Anaconda Company with the best logger in the company, Jim Grierson. This very short story details Jim's certain needs. The latter story focuses on the summer of Maclean's seventeenth year, which was spent working for the United States Forest Service in Elk Summit, Idaho. Here he was tasked with building trails, packing horses and mules and putting out wildfires.

In 1992, Robert Redford directed the film version of A River Runs Through It, starring Brad Pitt, Craig Sheffer and Tom Skerritt. It was nominated for the three Academy Awards and won for Best Cinematography.

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Jamie / January 20, 2009 12:01 PM

Are we also supposed to read the two short stories published with the novella? (no need to post, just need an answer)

Veronica BondAuthor Profile Page / January 20, 2009 8:56 PM

You can if you want. I figure that we can discuss the other two stories briefly, since it seems that the three are generally published together and all three stories are fairly short, but we'll focus the bulk of the discussion on A River Runs Through It. Of course, if everyone has skipped over them, we won't discuss them at all, which is fine too.

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