Outdoor Adventure Book Review: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

A River Runs Through It and Other Stories –  Norman Maclean

A River Runs Through It and Other Stories –
Norman Maclean

I’ve wanted to read “A River Runs Through It” for years.  I saw the movie – you know, the one starring Brad Pitt, and thought it was fairly decent, but like any reader, I knew that reading the book would provide a much better experience.  As I finished the third and final story within A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, I wasn’t disappointed.  Maclean’s writing is well–crafted, full of vivid imagery, story–centered, and rather enjoyable.

The most common publication of “A River Runs Through It” is a compilation of three stories:  “A River Runs Through It”, “Logging and Pimping and ‘Your Pal, Jim,’” and “USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky.”   These three nonfiction memoirs all detail Maclean’s early life in or near Montana.  Of course, I purchased the book for the title story – as I’m sure most readers do, but I finished the entire compilation before reaching a decision about how I perceived Maclean as a man and as a writer.

I won’t provide details about any of the three memoirs just in case you choose to read Maclean’s work.  Instead, I will just provide a few observations that I discovered while reading these memoirs of outdoor adventure.

First and foremost, the title memoir, “A River Runs Through It,” is spectacular.  My expectation that it would far surpass the movie experience was correct.  Reading about Maclean’s experiences fly–fishing with his father and brother and how they related to his Presbyterian upbringing was profound.  I could often “see” myself aside a frigid river, casting a Bunyan Bug No. 2 Yellow Stone Fly from a fly–rod in an attempt to fool a rainbow trout into rising for its next meal.  The story was compelling – a father and two brothers dealing with the joys and sorrows of life while comparing the art of fly–fishing with religion.  I wouldn’t consider it a top contender for my favorite books list, but overall, I rate the book as a must–read for any fisherman or woodsman.  You’ll love the vivid imagery, spending time with Maclean along a trout–rich river, and the complex relationship between himself, his father, and his brother.

The other two stories, “Logging and Pimping and ‘Your Pal, Jim,’” and “USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky,” were a bit less enjoyable than “A River…”  Although they were both well–written, they didn’t compare to the quality of Maclean’s better–known work.  Each of these memoirs recounted Maclean’s days of working for the United States Forest Service – back when men would work from sunup to sundown six days a week.  The imagery wasn’t quite as vivid, the story wasn’t quite as compelling, and the writing wasn’t quite as well–crafted in these two stories, but they were enjoyable nonetheless.  I wouldn’t put them on anyone’s “must read” list, but I would recommend them to anyone interested in how men lived and acted just after the turn of the 20th century.  I found Maclean’s early USFS world to be worth reading, but only because I found “A River…” so enjoyable.

If you’re in the mood to disappear into the life of an old–school woodsman or to find yourself along a frigid stream catching rainbows, I recommend you find a copy of Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and Other Stories and give it a read.  You won’t be disappointed!

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4 thoughts on “Outdoor Adventure Book Review: A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

  1. Great post, and I’m following up your recommendation! Like you, saw the movie, enjoyed it, and always intended to read the book. Old school woodsman tales? Who can resist? I’m in!
    Thanks for the reminder and review, and I’ll be off to the library tomorrow.

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