Sunday, November 23, 2008

Finishing up the May Novella Selection

"A River Runs Through It" was the May selection for our Novella Book Group. I don't allow myself to count the book as read if I have not finished the other stories so today I read the final story "USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook and A Hole in the Sky" to finish this book up.

"In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing". That's the first line of "A River Runs Through It" and it knocks me out. That one sentence contains so many messages in 13 words. I'm amazed by it and the story itself lived up to the start. As I said, this was our May selection recommended to me by S. and to him I say thanks for helping us kick off our second summer.

We met at Resi's on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It was warm enough to sit outside to we braved a leaky umbrella and sprinkles to discuss the story. We felt a little water was appropriate. The 5 of us were going along all agreeing politely about religion, family and fishing. Then I said what I thought about the ending and expected everyone to agree. Well, P. and I, without talking to each other about it, read the ending the same way. B., T., and A. read it a completely different way. Each camp worked to make their case and only T. started to see both sides while the rest remained firm. If you read the story, let me know what you think and I'll tell you how the two groups read it.

Norman Maclean is a story teller. You can see the lake where the narrator and Paul are fishing. You can taste how cold the beer is going to be when they go back to get it. You feel like a friend is telling you about part of his life. Maclean did not start writing until he retired from the University of Chicago and "River Runs Through It" was the first work of fiction published by the University of Chicago press.

The other two stories in this collection, "Logging and Pimping and 'Your Pal, Jim'" and the "USFS 1919" seem to come from a more romantic, yet dangerous, time. When men, and not machines, were sent out to tame the forest or master it for its resources. "River" struck me as more modern with current problems. It made for a really good discussion so if you're looking for a shorter work this would be one to pick. I have not seen the movie but might be interested to see how they interpret the ending. It's not an upper but it's one to read.

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