OutreachNC’s 2019 Book Club: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

This month, as we head outdoors and embark on adventures, we’re reading A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean. We were excited about this choice because we (Amy 2 in particular) love Hemingway and Thoreau, and the cover of this copy has a quote from the Chicago Tribune noting, “As beautiful as anything in Thoreau or Hemingway.” That’s a statement, and we were excited (though skeptical) that a book could live up to that praise. Readers: it did. Maclean’s writing is tight, simple and creates the kind of meandering tension that sneaks up on you, even if you’ve had hints of it all along. Though he writes of fly fishing in detail, the story (and the images culled from the fishing life) is about people, which some of us feel are the best stories of all. The other two stories are about Montana and men and how we all (even women) somehow make sense of the world in our own minds. They are beautiful. 

Lest I ramble on longer, here are 

10 Thoughts on A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

  1. You will, undoubtedly, begin reading the story “A River Runs Through It” with images of Brad Pitt floating through your head. There are worse things in life. 
  2. Maclean wrote his first book of fiction AFTER his retirement from his post as an English professor at the University of Chicago. He was in his 70s at the time, and the story was met with wide acclaim. 
  3. Our copies of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories are dog-eared, marking our favorite quotes and passages. Page 85 has a particular gem: “I still didn’t know what Scottish women look like when they struggle to keep their pride and haven’t much reason left to keep it. In case you have any doubt, they keep it.” 
  4. The title story will resonate with all of us who have loved people we don’t know how to help and, through watching their mistakes, have learned more about ourselves than we thought possible. 
  5. Maclean’s writing definitely harkens Hemingway, perhaps because both men were rugged outdoorsmen exposed to so many various settings in which men must work hard and struggle to survive. Page 122 provides an example: “I estimated he weighed 185 to 190 pounds and so was at least 35 pounds heavier than I was, but I figured I had been better taught and could reduce him to size if I could last the first ten minutes. I also figured that probably I could not last the first ten minutes.” 
  6. According to Travel + Leisure’s website, the best months to visit Montana are July and August. June presents the potential for rain, and September apparently threatens snow. But July and August are said to be lovely weather and aren’t overly run amuck with tourists (because the rest of us, those of us who have read fly fishing stories, are travelers, not tourists). 
  7. The most famous quote from this collection is one you may have heard before: “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 those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” 
  8. The film and the story differ, of course. According to The New York Times, “Mr. Redford’s film is more a homage to its source material than a work of comparable emotion or breadth. Mr. Maclean’s idiosyncratic storytelling followed no linear pattern, but the film (with a screenplay by Richard Friedenberg) has rearranged scenes in chronological order and thus lost some of the magic right away.” There is magic, indeed, in this story. 
  9. This book makes us wonder if life wasn’t simpler when men could reduce a disagreement to a fistfight and be done with it. 
  10. Jeeves gives this book 4.5 stars. We know – we were shocked, too. Jeeves is nothing but discerning, yet even he knows beauty and restraint when he reads it. 

That’s it for us this month. We’re looking forward to Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir entitled The Light of the World: a Memoir. Alexander writes about the existential crisis she endured after the unexpected death of her husband, which left her with two sons to care for in the wake of such tragedy. We are excited, as we’ve heard the book is beautiful and full of grace. We are always on the look out for grace. 

We love sharing books with everyone and anyone who’s got a review, comment, thought, critique or favorite quote to send along. Feel free to write to us at editor@outreachnc.com and let us know your thoughts on Maclean’s stories of men, fishing and Montana.