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Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of "A River Runs through It" that he is "haunted by waters," so have readers been haunted by his novella. A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70, Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1976, A River Runs through It and Other Stories now celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, marked by this new edition that includes a foreword by Annie Proulx.
Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the twentieth century. As a young man he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. The two novellas and short story in this collection are based on his own experiences—the experiences of a young man who found that life was only a step from art in its structures and beauty. The beauty he found was in reality, and so he leaves a careful record of what it was like to work in the woods when it was still a world of horse and hand and foot, without power saws, "cats," or four-wheel drives. Populated with drunks, loggers, card sharks, and whores, and set in the small towns and surrounding trout streams and mountains of western Montana, the stories concern themselves with the complexities of fly fishing, logging, fighting forest fires, playing cribbage, and being a husband, a son, and a father.
By turns raunchy, poignant, caustic, and elegiac, these are superb tales which express, in Maclean's own words, "a little of the love I have for the earth as it goes by." A first offering from a 70-year-old writer, the basis of a top-grossing movie, and the first original fiction published by the University of Chicago Press, A River Runs through It and Other Stories has sold more than a million copies. As Proulx writes in her foreword to this new edition, "In 1990 Norman Maclean died in body, but for hundreds of thousands of readers he will live as long as fish swim and books are made."
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Norman Maclean (1902-1990), woodsman, scholar, teacher, and storyteller, grew up in the Western Rocky Mountains of Montana and worked for many years in logging camps and for the United States Forestry Service before beginning his academic career. He was the William Rainey Harper Professor of English at the University of Chicago until 1973.Review:
"[Maclean] would go to his grave secure in the knowledge that anyone who'd fished with a fly in the Rockies and read his novella on the how and why of it believed it to be the best such manual on the art ever written--a remarkable feat for a piece of prose that also stands as a masterwork in the art of tragic writing." (Philip Connors Nation)
"Altogether beautiful in the power of its feeling. . . . As beautiful as anything in Thoreau or Hemingway." (Alfred Kazin Chicago Tribune Book World)
"It is an enchanted tale. . . . I have read the story three times now, and each time it seems fuller." (Roger Sale New York Review of Books)
"Maclean's book—acerbic, laconic, deadpan—rings out of a rich American tradition that includes Mark Twain, Kin Hubbard, Richard Bissell, Jean Shepherd, and Nelson Algren. I love its sound." (James R. Frakes New York Times Book Review)
"The title novella is the prize. . . . Something unique and marvelous: a story that is at once an evocation of nature's miracles and realities and a probing of human mysteries. Wise, witty, wonderful, Maclean spins his tales, casts his flies, fishes the rivers and the woods for what he remembers from his youth in the Rockies." (Publishers Weekly)
"Ostensibly a 'fishing story,' 'A River Runs through It' is really an autobiographical elegy that captivates readers who have never held a fly rod in their hand. In it the art of casting a fly becomes a ritual of grace, a metaphor for man's attempt to move into nature." (Andrew Rosenheim The Independent)
“Forty years ago, a book appeared that landed fly fishing in the center of American society. At the time, fly fishing books were not places where people played for keeps, where family promises were forgotten, where young heroes died, where relationships that were problematic in life become more so in death. Fly fishing books instead offered an idealized patch of life.... A River Runs Through It and Other Stories certainly stood that one on its head.” (Will Ryan American Angler)
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