Where's the book?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

#36 A River Runs Through It

I knew it was a movie. And that it starred Brad Pitt. But I had no idea that the movie was based on a book--more a novella--by the author Norman Maclean, who I had never heard of. 

Maclean was a scholar, a revered professor at the University of Chicago who taught the Romantic poets and Shakespeare. When he retired in 1973, his children encouraged him to write the stories he liked to tell, many about growing up in Montana, his minister father, and fly fishing. This book, officially titled A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, was the first book of fiction published by the University of Chicago Press. 

The title story is beautifully written and completely absorbing, much of it about fly fishing and the relationships between two brothers and their minister father. The best way to describe it is to quote from an interview with Maclean in Esquire magazine from 1981:

Brad in the movie, young and gorgeous
"It is a story about Maclean and his brother, Paul, who was beaten to death with a gun butt in 1942. It is about not understanding what you love, about not being able to help. It is the truest story I ever read; it might be the best written. And to this day it won’t leave me alone."

In the same article, Maclean was quoted as saying:

"I thought for a while it was the writing that kept bringing it around. That’s the way it comes back to me: I hear the sound of the words, then I see them happen. I spent four hours one afternoon picking out three paragraphs to drop into a column I was writing about the book, and in the end they didn’t translate, because except for the first sentence—'In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing'—there isn’t anything in it that doesn’t depend on what comes before it for its meaning."

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