I think I mentioned last month I finally got around to reading Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, after being a fan of the movie for 20 years.
This may be one of the saddest books I have ever read.
This surprised me. The film is bittersweet, but it’s also filled with a love of the river, the land, and family. It’s warm and nostalgic. There’s a sense of helplessness about what happens to Paul. That his tragedy is inevitable, and however much Norm would like to save him, it simply isn’t possible because of who Paul is.
The book is melancholy and saturated with guilt. Here, Norm believes that he should have been able to save Paul. Moreover, if he had only known Paul better, understood him better, been able to connect with him, he could have saved him. Maclean wrote one of the best-known western memoirs as a tribute to his brother, all the while insisting that he didn’t know Paul well enough to be able to write it. And he mourns everything about Paul. The book is told in the voice of an old man, filled with self-recrimination and love.
It’s a strange and heartfelt piece of writing.