A River Runs Through It

"A River Runs Through It"

"A River Runs Through It" is a semi-autobiographical account of Maclean's relationship with his brother Paul and their upbringing in an early 20th-century Montana family in which "there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing." In a 1981 profile of Maclean, Esquire magazine described it as:

It is a story about Maclean and his brother, Paul, who was beaten to death with a gun butt in 1942. It is about not understanding what you love, about not being able to help. It is the truest story I ever read; it might be the best written. And to this day it won’t leave me alone.

I thought for a while it was the writing that kept bringing it around. That’s the way it comes back to me: I hear the sound of the words, then I see them happen. I spent four hours one afternoon picking out three paragraphs to drop into a column I was writing about the book, and in the end they didn’t translate, because except for the first sentence—“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing”—there isn’t anything in it that doesn’t depend on what comes before it for its meaning.[1]

The novel is noted for using detailed descriptions of fishing and nature to engage with a number of profound metaphysical questions.[2] In a review for the Chicago Tribune, critic Alfred Kazin stated: "There are passages here of physical rapture in the presence of unsullied primitive America that are as beautiful as anything in Thoreau and Hemingway".[3]


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