A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT / Norman Maclean. 1976. (115 pgs)
First Sentence: “In our family there was not clear line between religion and fly fishing.”
Prevailing Narrative Voice: A single, first person narrator initially speaking from many years later, but on page nine the past catches up with the present and the voice shifts to the immediate past. Shortly thereafter it shifts again to the present tense. It is the same narrator throughout.
What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: The first paragraphs introduce three things: family, religion and fly-fishing as it relates to these two brothers and their father. All three interrelate. The father is a Scot, a Presbyterian minister and an orthodox fly fisherman. We are also told that they live in western Montana, “at the junction of great trout rivers…”, giving it a holy feeling.
What the reader learns in the first ten pages: The boys age from very young to their early thirties during the first ten pages. This narrator has the gift of being moderate, or perhaps only moderate as compared to his younger brother. In subtle ways we are told: each man can hold his own in a fight, they won’t fight each other (but I suspect they do later in the book), and in their one and only childhood fistfight they knock down their mother. We are also given particulars of successful fly-fishing; the rhythm, the range, the right type of rod (not pole!) and how, because they are preacher’s kids, the esoteric-religious aspects of grace on the river. As I mentioned above, on page nine the past meets up with the present and the pace of the story slows considerably. On page ten the reader is just becoming engaged in a meeting between the two brothers, one married the other a maverick, hard-drinking reporter in Helena, Montana. The year is 1937.
Character: In the opening pages, much is made of the father and his influence on his sons. The story eventually focuses on the two brothers as told from the POV of the elder. However, there seems to be evidence indicating there will be trouble between them. It is interesting that the narrating brother describes events and actions around him, but spends much less time describing himself.
Setting: The setting is introduced in the first paragraph not only as a location, but also as a location as compared to the Sea of Galilee and other biblical equivalents.
Plot & Expectations beyond the tenth page: As he describes the two boys and later the two men, the narrator is careful to keep his POV moderate. It seems with this effort toward moderation there are going to be fireworks between the brothers later in the story.
Random Comments: Norman Maclean is a Pulitzer Prize nominee. A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, written when Maclean was in his seventies, is an autobiographical novella of 115 pages. It is not a full-length novel. Brad Pitt played the younger brother, Paul McClean, in the 1992 film version.