Thursday, February 21, 2013

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Like a large majority of modern females, I went through a phase where I was obsessed with Brad Pitt. Mine happened in the early to mid-90s, during the Legends of the Fall, Interview with the Vampire, and A River Runs Through It era. So, I have seen this movie, but a) I don't remember much about it and b) I've never read the book.

A River Runs Through It is actually a novella which either stands alone or is part of the larger book A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. I was supposed to pick up the latter and somehow ended up with just the former. In a nutshell, A River Runs Through It is a mostly autobiographical account of two things: 1) Norman's brother Paul; and 2) fly fishing. I listened to an interview with Norman in which I learned that he thought the book was firstly about Paul and secondly about fly fishing. I must admit, I did not see it that way. To me, the book was about fly fishing first and Paul second.

This was the pro and con of this book. The writing is beautiful. Simply amazing. Some of the smoothest and most vivid writing I have had the pleasure of encountering in awhile. It is like a nice melody; and yes, it is like a river. It flows so smoothly, but also with character. It is obvious in the writing that Norman loves fly fishing. He loves it. And when someone gets to share what they love with you in a deep and profound way, in a way that lets you know the whys and hows and the ins and outs of the thing, you have beauty. Hence the lovely prose. But the problem for me, personally? Norman loves fly fishing...I don't. It was a LOT of talk about fishing. On and on and on...about fishing. And it was lovely and I tried to make myself more interested in fishing so I could enjoy it more, but I'm just not that interested in fishing. But I can relate. Have me write a book about traveling or about scrapbooking, and I could only dream of conveying my love for it as beautifully as Norman conveys his love for fly fishing. But, maybe Norman would be bored reading a novella about scrapbooking.

Because of my (non) feelings on fly fishing, I felt the book dragged in places...I wanted to push through because it's so short, but I often found myself thinking, "Are we done yet?" and zoning out for several sentences or even paragraphs where some kind of fishing technique was explaining in great detail. Also, for a story about Paul, it was very disjointed about Paul. I am unclear why he picked to share the certain scenes he did. And there was a large side story about him and his brother-in-law that really felt to me like it had nothing to do with anything at all. If it somehow related to Paul and Paul's relationship with Norman then maaaaybe it would have made sense. But as it was presented, I just thought it random.

By the end of A River Runs Through It, though, I came to appreciate it what it is: a novella. It's not supposed to be the whole story. It's a glimpse into Norman's life and events that shaped him. It is a beautifully written story that relates the nature and lessons of life through one of life's most timeless analogies: a river.

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