THE RIVER WHY by David James Duncan


Email this review


An expansively inventive spiritual-quest tale with a fisherman metaphor--popping, erratically but engagingly, from Swiftian drolleries to twanging slapstick swings to Solemn Moments of Discovery. . . to stodgily whimsical romance. Gus Orviston, Oregon's ""fishing genius,"" is the offspring of an aristocratic English angler (whose ""flies are constructed with a scrupulousness rivalling the Creator's"")--but his Ma is the angler's ""Antipode,"" a raucous cowgirl/bait-fisherman, a ""plunker of worms."" So Gus grows up obsessed with fishing, and is voted Mr. Most-Out-Of-It by his class, while young brother Bill Bob, a serene soul who ""grew up on an unwatched channel,"" is fish-free. Gus discourses on the irritating passages in the Good Book (i.e., Walton's Compleat Angler), on the fascinating fish counts in the Bible. And, taking off to the wilds, to his hermitage on the coast by the Tamanawis River, Gus aims for 4,000 fishing hours per year! But, during the week covered so intensely here, Gus will be constantly led away from angling, driven to spiritual thoughts, soulful memories, and mystical revelations. He recalls home theology--with Ma terming evolution science a Commie plot to teach kids they come from ""talkin' wads of snot."" He discovers that the river-bed spells out ""Why."" He ponders varieties of killing--the reverent, the greedy. Smitten, he courts a nude-sunbathing girl: while she fishes from a tree, he quotes Walton to her--from another tree. And eventually, after assorted revelatory dream-tales bob up through his straining consciousness (the story of a singing mouse, the death-wish of a creek, the tale of a drowning sailor), Gus takes the painful, searing quest-journey to the river's source--to the knowledge that ""Why"" is not a question but a statement. Part waggish fun, part somber (and rather stilted) metaphysics: an uneven but talented, quirky item--likely to attract some of the quality-inspirational readership with its rich fishing/outdoor ambience, its quips, cranks, and likable originals.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 1982
ISBN: 1578050847
Publisher: Sierra Club--dist. by Random House