Posted by: chartroose | February 18, 2008

A River Runs Through It

maclean.jpeg200px-normanmaclean_ariverrunsthroughit.jpegThis is a book blog, so this post will be about Norman McLean’s semi-autobiographical novella, published in 1976 by the University of Chicago Press. I liked the movie, but like all adapted movies (with the exception of To Kill a Mockingbird and maybe a few others), the film adaptation of A River Runs Through It pales in comparison to McLean’s outstanding little masterpiece. 

I began thinking about A River Runs Through It the other day while I was still obsessing over Plath’s Fever 103°. The end of the poem is about rebirth; becoming something greater than oneself, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. I started to wonder about other written works that may focus on death and reawakening, and for some reason, A River Runs Through It popped into my head.

The book is not about being ressurrected, but its major premise is loosely related. McLean uses the river as a metaphor for life and death throughout the novella. He’s basically saying that we are all one; we begin and end at the same place. In Fever 103°, Plath talks about ascending to Paradise, her “selves dissolving.” In essence, she will become part of everything and nothing. This is also implied in A River Runs Through It. 

This novella is just beautiful. The writing is very spare and poetic, kind of like how you’d picture someone fly casting, with the line snicking back and forth over the water. While reading this, you can see the sun-dappled reflection of water flowing over rocks and hear the gurgling sound it makes as it travels along its predetermined path. You can visualize Paul’s luminosity and feel great sorrow for him as he loses his way. You can admire Norman’s insight and feel compassion for his losses as well. Out of all the books I’ve read, A River Runs Through It has to fall somewhere in my top twenty. It’s that good, and it has one of the most lyrical and heart-wrenching endings I’ve ever read. I’m teary-eyed just thinking about it right now. God, I’m such an old softie!

Here’s the ending:

Eventually, all things must 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 the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.



  1. I’ve seen the movie a long time ago, and fortunately, I can’t remember much from the movie….so I’m definitely going to go read this. It’s going on my TBR list right now.

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