THE SAME RIVER TWICE: A Memoir by Chris Offutt


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Offutt follows up his collection of agrarian short stories (Kentucky Straight, 1992--not reviewed) with a picaresque tale of a decade on the road. The author is the protagonist in this engaging and irreverent story, much of which may even be factual. But even if some of the details may not be literally true, as a cynical reader might suspect, the book is sometimes truly literate. Offutt, almost as enamored with Figures of Speech as he is with Mother Nature, devises some similes (""a city as cold as crowbar""; ""predictable as diarrhea"") that are more adroit than others (""The sky was a gray flannel blanket like a water color background with too much paint""). The author sprang from the foothills of Appalachia (where the terrain is ""humped like a kicked rug"") before he turned 20. Before he was 30, not so long ago, he passed through New York and Minnesota, California and the Everglades, the plains, mountains, and swamps of America. Drifting his way past redoubts of poverty and outposts of counterculture, Offutt sought his fortune, perhaps as an actor, perchance as a playwright or maybe as a poet. What he found, besides sex, was occasional work as a dishwasher, a mosquito-plagued naturalist, and a faux walrus in a surreal, flea-bitten circus. (A job promotion's upward mobility: He was allowed to sleep under the truck.) The effect is Candide following the path of Orwell down and out in Paris and London. Threaded throughout is the moving journal of Offutt's wife's pregnancy and the birth of the Offutt scion. Finally, Offutt tends his own garden beside a river in America's heartland as he offers an acute reconstruction of things that may have passed. As the old adage has it, you can't step into the same river twice. Even so, a dip into this stream of self-consciousness is an entertaining pastime.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1993
ISBN: 0743229495
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster