This is the third time I’ve read this novel — once in college, once when I was about 30, and now at 40. To say that it’s comes scross different each time is a bit of an understatement. In college, I imagine I spent a lot of time focused on the rape scene and the “implications” of it — the “unmanning” of the character. I was probably a lot more on board with Louis’s performative masculinity (but read straight) and more or less in agreement with him. I have a pretty strong sense of self-preservation, so the fight for your life elements of the book also read through as important and strong and they still do.
Around 30 this shifted a little. For one thing, the self-preservation part reads differently, or shifts more so. The live or die stuff feels less important and the “how are we going to get away with this” is a lot stronger. These are men in the late 30s and early 40s. They have a life that they consider meaningful, or, as the novel suggests, they’ve never questioned the meaningfulness of it. They walked into those woods already feeling superior to the locals, and they sure as hell are going to walk out them (those that can still walk or are still alive) feeling that way.
Now at 40, my limits are much more clear physically, and my brain is much settled and clear experience and wisdom-wise. I am firmly in the “the only thing I know is that I know nothing” stage of things, and well, the self-preservation stuff is very strong, but that would likely include not going on that river in the first place. I hike a lot, but I go to national parks, and stay on trails, and avoid rainy days, and never go camping. I push myself, to a cetain amount, but that’s a holdover. Even the other week, the water of a creek was high, and it took me a little time to gingerly take myself over it. Things are different. I am not “over the hill” — I hope, but the perspective is different. Could I still maybe fight for my life if I needed? Maybe? Will I be testing those limits? Nope!
So the book ends up feeling a lot more darkly ironic and sinister this time around, and still very very good.