Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review - The River Why

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
David James Duncan ©1983

The story that was a river.

This story begins in the pool of stagnant water of Gus’s life as a boy growing up in Portland, Oregon. He is a prodigal fisher-kid, born to a pair as compatible as Lord Byron and Calamity Jane. The only points on which the three of them converge is the water and the fish that sway within, and their affection for Gus's little brother, Bill Bob.  Bill Bob wants nothing to do with water, but swims in metaphysical waters like one born with gills.

Gus's family is in a state of perpetual conflict, particularly with regards to the method by which fish should be taken from the water. The battle of worms vs. flies rages on a daily basis, revealing a deep disconnect between his parents.

After graduation without honors, Gus's river leaps the log jam, and glides post-haste to a cabin on Oregon's fictitious Tamawanis river. Isolated, he spends all his time following his Ideal Schedule: Sleeping, fishing, eating, drinking and sleeping again. Instead finding utter happiness, one such as myself would expect, he sinks and spins as though he's caught in the eddy of a waterfall. His philosophical minded friend, Titus, offers him hand and pulls him free.

Free flowing again the story meanders through remembrances of his childhood, through ancient forests that fell victim to refir madness, through Sherar’s falls fished by the Native American, Tomas Bigeater, who remembers his spirit, and by other Native Americans who cannot. A branch of the river flows through the city of Portland and dies, while the main story flows on. The river is rife with riffles of laughter, between pools of deep clarity, and eddies of beauty, and murky stretches of disorientation.

Sometimes the river passes through the physical into the metaphysical, to return luminous. It is alive with spirited trout, minnows of greatness and longing, ugly yet delectable nymphs, and worms wrapped in mud like Twinkies. This story-river makes fun of itself, gives and gets, despairs and hopes. It bubbles from it's spring wondering at its purpose, finds its spirit, all the while asking, “Why?”

David James Duncan has written a beautiful river that I will float, fish, skinny dip, and refresh my spirit in again, and again, and again.

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