D has our book club pick for November, and we got two choices: Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose or David James Duncan’s The River Why. We chose The River Why, because it was shorter. D is from the West Coast and was interested in a West Coast author, so his pick went there. I had never heard of the book, but saw its enormous ratings on Goodreads. I was sufficiently intrigued to get it from the library.
Our narrator is Gus Orviston, the product of great chemistry and conflict. His father is a fly-fisher, his mother a rebel fisher, and he is caught in the middle. His life involves fishing. When he graduates high school, he leaves his suburban town and decides to fish as much and as often as he can. While living in a remote cabin off a small town, he wrestles with major spiritual questions, as well as the ethics of his fishing and ideas about self-sufficiency. He is a philosopher in the making, and the book is more interested in his spiritual growth than in the actual story itself, which shows.
I think this book has its literary merit, which is why it ultimately earned three stars. It’s a throwback to Thoreauvian ways of living off the land and pondering one’s existence. It is a question about life and death that never gets neatly answered. Finally, it examines the relationship between humans and the earth and studies the various ecologies of our collective existence.
But the pacing is glacial. I felt like I was reading a much longer book, and young Gus’s philosophizing was worse than Tristram Shandy’s. I also do not feel that I am the target audience, as I am neither an outdoors-woman nor a couch philosopher. If you really like Thoreau and Emerson, you will probably like this book. If not, proceed with caution.
Cross-posted to my blog.