I first heard about this book from the legendary editor Ted Solotaroff whom I met at the Squaw Valley Writers Conference, California. Ted had build a career discovering new young writers. I asked him if he knew of splendid writers who published their first books later in life.
“Not many,” Ted replied, but then mentioned Norman Maclean, his teacher at the University of Chicago, who published his first book when he was 74. And that book was “A River Runs Through it.” (He published several others after that!)
And what a book! It was as if Maclean was storing up the strength and sweetness all his life-time. I love its smooth, lyrical surface, its elegiac tone, its pitch-perfect writing, its old world Scottish restraint, its depiction of the unbreakable bonds of family love in a family with very different characters.
The central character is Maclean’s troubled younger brother Paul who breaks his family’s hearts and his own heart and life—all without severing the basic bonds of family love. And A River Runs Through It—fly-fishing, Montana rivers, and the tenacious love for God, of God, and of family. The bond between the father, an old world, dignified restrained Scottish pastor and his son, who was at his most beautiful when fishing, is tenderly depicted.
It is a short book, a novella, really, and a rich, rewarding, sad and beautiful one.