A River Runs Through It


Dear Jeannie,

Hai…so this review is like two weeks overdue…oops? My only excuse is that school has got me shook and I am just trying to survive my never-ending p-sets and exams :))))).

My life right now:

The book I read (actually you know the part that says “and other stories” haha yeah, I didn’t read the other stories, so from now on “entire book”, “book”, “whole book” etc. refers only to the eponymous story) is called “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean. Honestly I don’t even remember why I picked it up but if I had known the entire fricking thing was about fly fishing I definitely would not have done so, which would have been my loss.

Literally. Fishing.

Also to my continued amazement, this book got made into a movie starring Brad Pitt??!? first of all, Brad, why. Was this before Ocean’s 11? Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Were you still figuring out your life? Second of all, how did this book about fly fishing get a movie and Artemis Fowl didn’t??

Alright. I’ll admit he works it as a fisherman.

The titular pseudo-memoir novella (this is some strong creative nonfiction!!!) centers around a narrator (Norman), his brother, Paul, fly fishing/nature/alcohol (so many people are drunk, getting drunk and/or on their way to a drink) and only very occasionally the background cast of characters that is his family.

The late Norman Maclean, who moonlighted(? Moonlit?) as a professor of English Literature at the University of Chicago, is very, very good at writing. This entire book is an exercise in every English teacher’s favorite game of ‘good writers can write interestingly about any subject! Here’s a leaf. You have twenty minutes. Go.’

Maclean turns the (to me at least) incredibly dull subject of fly fishing into merely a canvas on which he majestically paints a story about two brothers, and also a substory of a man and his father. In fact the central character is the definitely-alcoholic-lives-life-too-fast-too-loud-and-too-much Paul (aka Brad Pitt).

Yet even in the loneliness of the canyon I knew there were others like me who had brothers they did not understand but wanted to help. We are probably those referred to as “our brother’s keepers,” possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting of instincts. It will not let us go.


Poets talk about “spots of time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment. No one can tell what a spot of time is until suddenly the whole world is a fish and the fish is gone.


Eventually, all things 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.

By the end, I was half convinced that I ought to try fly fishing in order to access some of that transcendental experience Maclean seems to draw with every cast. But then I realized what makes a transcendental experience is not that particular experience, it’s not the leaf that catalyzes a beautiful poem or essay or creative nonfiction piece, it’s the writer’s inner feelings and thoughts and wishes spilled onto paper like blood.

And so I was content to go back to my completely sedentary lifestyle.