A River Runs Through It

Thoughts  A River Runs Through It And Other Stories by Norman Maclean, the University of Chicago Press 2001 (The Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (orig pub’d 1976)), 217 pages

“Sometimes a thing in front of you is so big you don’t know whether to comprehend it by first getting a dim sense of the whole and then fitting in the pieces or by adding up the pieces until something calls out what it is.”
p. 53, ARRTI

Why I read this, why now especially, could be blamed on the What’s in a Name 5 category of TOPOGRAPHICAL FEATURE which I think the title infers. And thus, this post satisfies my participation in that Challenge – wow, completed in the first 6 months rather than in December!  Woot. But the root or spark that explains why I read this book is the fanlove of Citizen Reader for this author. Sure, I had heard of the movie but never saw it. I will, though.

I had recommended this to book club but it was soundly defeated in a vote. (Please remind me next time I have ‘selection’ that I should really propose something commercially popular?! I have to make up for the beating poor Cranford received.)

I am going to send it to Nancy the BookFool because I am pretty sure she will love it like I did and will need a palate cleanser after teen vampire romance stuff and flower porn. She and I both enjoyed Fire Season and this has similar themes which is NOT surprising because Fire Season references Norman Maclean.

Back to ARRTI…  This collection consists of a Foreward by Annie Proulx, and Acknowledgement bit by the author and placed after the Foreward, the title story which I have and will continue to reference as “ARRTI”, the shortest story called “Logging and Pimping and “Your Pal, Jim””, then the third and last story called “USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky”.

I did not read this in order. I read the “Logging and Pimping…” story first (it was the shortest) and then actually came back to the Foreward which is unlike me. I liked the Cook story best which actually surprised me.

I am curious and have no clue why exactly this is fiction and not memoir (I believe I will save that research for the Norman Maclean Reader) but I certainly imagined in my head that all this truly happened to the author.

“Logging and Pimping” is… a tale to be told aloud, but vivid and tight, packed with wry observation of human behavior the difficult of judging character, the memorable study of a backwoods tinhorn and sharp look at a western logging camp before the invention of the chainsaw.”
p.xiii, Foreward by Annie Proulx

The cook story amazed me because of the change in voice from ARRTI. It is a coming of age story where our boy is 17 and working hard on a Forest Service crew and starts to realize maybe then and certainly at the time of the telling, that he IS growing up and taking on maturity. Contrasted with ARRTI when he is in his thirties and talking about the relationship with his younger, wilder brother.

“I sat there and forgot and forgot, until what remained was the river that went by and I who watched. On the river the heat mirages danced with each other and then they danced through each other and then they joined hands and danced around each other. Eventually the watcher joined the river, and there was only one of us. I believe it was the river.”
p.61, ARRTI

Don’t let it seem like nothing happens in these stories. There most definitely is action -lots happens! – though maybe not the traditional arc of plot and conclusion. But he does intersperse personal philosophy tidbits that were quite beautiful. Reflections on life, relationships, growing up, and poetry.

Four slices of pie. 

“Somewhere along here I first became conscious of the feeling I talked about earlier – the feeling that comes when you first notice your life turning into a story.”
p. 144, tRtCaaHitS

“It doesn’t take much in the way of body and mind to be a lookout. It’s mostly soul. 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 time and the images turn true.”
p.144, tRtCaaHitS


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20 thoughts on “A River Runs Through It

  1. I am reading this one sometime in the next couple months because in September the Huz and I are taking a roadtrip to Montana. This is one of the few books that is set in Montana that I’ve always wanted to read. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and now I have a better idea of what to expect.

    1. Great! And I don’t give ANYTHING away, do I? You will love the descriptions of the scenery, I bet. I did sometimes wish I had a map so I’m sure you will have even more understanding of the topography.

  2. Oh, look at young Brad Pitt! I guess it’s been a while since that movie came out. Pre-Jennifer by a long shot, probably. I can’t wait to read this. It definitely sounds like my thing. I read those quotes and then just let them swirl around in my head. Beautiful writing. Thanks for thinking of me, Carrie!

  3. I watched the movie and then got the book for the lovely quote they say at the end about rivers. But now I can’t find the book. Brad is at his most gorgeous on this movie.

      1. Rent it anyway, Care. I’ll bet he enjoys it; I would say it’s more of a guy movie than a chick flick. Although, not in the Die Hard, Rambo kind of way.

  4. My cousin swears that we watched ARRTI together, but I have no recollection of this…and I think I would remember all that Brad Pitt! Maybe I’ll read the story some day so I can at least act like I know what she’s talking about! 🙂

    1. Everyone seems to get it confused with the other movie of three brothers all falling in love with Julia Ormond (and as typical, nobody can remember what that movie is called.)

      1. Legends of the Fall – also starring Brad Pitt as the naughty brother that everyone can’t help but love no matter how much trouble he causes. That one shows up on tv all of the time and I cannot watch it because it is so sad! Although, so is ARRTI.

    1. Oh, they’re good sports but don’t quite buy into the idea (MY idea) that book clubs are SUPPOSED to be about reading something you might not on your own. But that’s OK. We have fun.

  5. Care,
    I’m so, so glad you are enjoying Maclean. You have made my summer.

    The movie is fantastic. Both this book and the movie stand on their own as beautiful pieces of art, each in their own medium.

    The movie with the three brothers, also starring Brad Pitt, is Legends of the Fall. Based on a novel by Jim Harrison I think. Not nearly as good as ARRTI.

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