Reeling in the literary richness of Maclean’s book

Written by Katy Nesbitt, The Observer January 16, 2013 10:14 am

Each year Fishtrap chooses a book for its annual community read that is as familiar as an old friend. This year is no exception with its choice of Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It.”

It’s a short book. I reread it for the fifth time the other night in about three hours. I’d had enough with icy roads and sub-zero temperatures, loaded the stove with wood and bundled under the blankets for another visit of Montana’s trout streams and rivers and Maclean’s family, at the core of the story.

I leave the rest of the story for you to discover for the first or 15th time for yourselves, but read the novella and don’t rely primarily on the sumptuous movie of the same name. You need to revel in the literary richness of Maclean’s writing to get the full impact of this gorgeous book.

I’ve also read Maclean’s “Young Men in Fire,” which I can’t put my hands on for re-read; Dad took it to Hawaii last fall and I haven’t gotten it back, but close at hand is his son John Maclean’s first book on a similar disastrous forest fire, “Fire on the Mountain.”

The story is well researched and very thorough, what you’d expect from a 30-year newspaper veteran. I knew the story of the South Canyon fire well, but Maclean’s version is through the eyes of the dozens of people he interviewed and puts the reader on the hillside where 14 firefighters died.

In an interview last week with John Maclean I opined that if his father had started writing earlier in life, he may have been more prolific. John said he believes his father wrote what he was meant to write and in turn, John said he writes what he is meant to write, nonfiction re-creations of tragic wildland fires.

In “A River Runs Through It,” Norman talks about the grammatically incorrect phrase, “more perfect” as he watches his brother fly fish. Grammatically flawed as it may be, I understand the correctness of the sentiment. I don’t think there’s anything more perfect than living what you are meant to do and the grace to recognize what that is.