Norman Maclean began writing late in life, passing away not long after penning this extraordinary piece, depriving us of his gift just as he arrived. The book is actually three short stories but the focus is clearly on the novella “A River Runs Through It”. On the surface, the title story is his recollections of his father, a Presbyterian minister, and his troubled but talented brother, with whom he fished. Set in the Montana of Maclean’s youth, he paints exquisitely vivid and beautiful word pictures of a land and water and family now gone. At the core is the frustration of the often-futile attempt of trying to help another or trying to save a loved one from their self-destruction. There are passages here which are as wonderfully written as anything in English. Not a page passes without discovering a superbly crafted gem. “So it is…that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed.” “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.” Throughout the tale, his life, his religion, his family, his fly-fishing are metaphors, each for the other. And the words of each are heard in the waters and stone of the rivers. He is haunted, he tells us, by waters. I am haunted by his words which approach poetry.
A River Runs Through It by Norman MacLean on May 14th, 2008 at Susan E’s house April 23, 2008