Recommended: A River Runs Through It

Can you recommend half of a story? Even though Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” nearly dries up towards the end, it has a strong beginning and a fine appreciation for craft. In the course of a rough and tumble narrative about two Presbyterian streetfighting flyfishing brothers, Maclean takes the time to make memorable images:

Below him was the multitudinous river, and, where the rock had parted it around him, big-grained vapor rose. The mini-molecules of water left in the wake of his line made momentary loops of gossamer, disappearing so rapidly in the rising big-grained vapor that they had to be retained in memory to be visualized as loops. The spray emanating from him was finer grained still and enclosed him in a halo of himself. The halo of himself was always there and always disappearing into the rising vapors of the river, which continually circled to the tops of the cliffs where, after becoming a wreath in the wind, they became rays of the sun.

And pays close attention to the nuances of mastering an art:

My brother and I would have preferred to start learning how to fish by going out and catching a few, omitting entirely anything difficult or technical in the way of preparation that would take away from the fun. But it wasn’t by way of fun that we were introduced to our father’s art. If our father had had his say, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him. So you too will have to approach the art Marine- and Presbyterian-style, and, if you have never picked up a fly rod before, you will soon find it factually and theologically true that man by nature is a damn mess.

But what I like best about it is hard to cover in short quotes. It’s the way Maclean explores the troubled dynamic between the two brothers and their father’s faith – and the moments when the three of them succeed in their struggle to show each other love, even without being able to find the right words to express it. The good half of this story makes the whole thing worth a read.

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