Monday, May 21, 2007

A River Runs Through It


Last month while in Ken Sanders getting the book-team monthly selection I took it to the counter and Ken himself checked me out. He was pleased, I think, at the diversity of books I'd chosen, which made me feel good inside. For this book though he was excited to say a little of the history of the author and the background.

"One of the greatest first lines in a novel," he said while opening the cover.

"Yeah?" I said, playing dumb. Just about everyone knows the first line to this book. But I wasn't going to stop him from reading it.

"In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing."

Of course I know the movie. I'd even owned it before giving it away to a friend who was getting into flyfishing, and I'm always a bit wary of reading a book whose film adaptation I've already seen. I much prefer it the other way around. So it is that I didn't expect to be as touched by the story as I was. Norman can write. I found myself marking with my pencil little bits of dialogue or story every other page. There is much beauty in this book that extends beyond the miraculous descriptions of Montana, the river, and fishing. There is a familial struggle at play here that is relatable whether you've ever picked up a rod or not. Norman's father tells him, "trout--as well as eternal salvation--come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy." One facet of life, by necessity, informs another. The principles of Presbyterianism weave together with the principles of fly-fishing, which weaves yet still together with the principles of family. And so he braids with deftness a story that blends life, sport, emotion, and art with a finesse that in the end left me humbled.

The crux of the story is Norman's relationship with his brother Paul. Trying to come to grips, many years after the fact, with Paul's life and death. He second guesses himself for not knowing how to help him. He is reconciling Paul and his art with his family and his religion. One of the many things I learned from this book is that there is some redeeming value in beauty. It may be unmeasurable. It may be intangible. But it is there and it transcends this lowly life even for just a little while. And whatever we can do to try and understand that beauty will serve us for the better. There is so much that can be said for that.

Though he probably knows, I can now tell Ken that the last line is even better than the first.

"I am haunted by waters."

1 comment:

Jen said...

That is such a great story!

I have to laugh whenever I think about the movie. I watched it for the first time with my grandpa who kept bursting out with comments like "are you sure this is a new movie? Robert Redford sure looks young in his role..."

:D