Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Deliverance by James Dickey

Title: Deliverance
Author: James Dickey
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co (1970)

So, funny story. This month's pick is Michael's (obviously it is, it's from the 70s;) and I hadn't read or seen it before but I'd certainly heard of it and was even looking forward to it as it'd been a while since I'd read a Western. Yeah, you saw that right; for some reason I had it in my head that this was a classic Western. Yes, the look on my partner's face when I said it was about a canoe trip and not a Western was priceless. He hasn't actually seen the whole thing either but he definitely knew this very famous story wasn't a Western. How do these ideas take hold in one's mind? It's like The Untouchables all over again. I assume I just get the titles confused on different movies but, still, a Western? Well, anyway...

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here (**contains mild spoilers**).

Click here for Michael's film review of Deliverance 
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Four dudes from the 'burbs decide to go on a canoe trip down a hard to access river to get a break from the routine of city life. The weekend does not go as expected.

...but the promise of it that promised other things, another life, deliverance.

When I first read that line I thought the title was ironic or satirical. But by the time I finished the book I wasn't so sure. I'd be willing to wager a hefty sum that Dickey and I see this story quite differently. 

What works:
The intimacy of the narrator. Whether or not you want to hang out with Ed Gentry and his friends for the weekend you can't help but fall seamlessly into Ed's head. 

The hilarious drive to the river. I defy anyone to not laugh at the route and Lewis' cat-like "of course that's what I meant to do all along" attitude.  

What doesn't:
Oh dear, this list is so long. I'll try to keep it on the technical side of things rather than the personal. There's an extremely heavy reliance upon "hillbilly" stereotypes. (For anyone who, like me, wasn't quite buying the convenient countryfolk are always suspicious of cityfolk - probably because of moonshine - excuse here's a really interesting link on the history of moonshiners in North Georgia.) I just couldn't really believe the things Ed was doing physically. In fact, I just couldn't really believe these guys were all that far outside of a metropolitan area. They weren't exactly rushing to get out there on Friday and they were going to be back by Sunday? Also, you stuff some dirty cloth into a serious wound (whilst rummaging around in a wilderness) and there are no side effects to this?

It reads an awful like like the author has put a lot of himself onto the page. I always cringe when I feel that way when reading as I think it says more about me than the author but I went for a little surf on the interwebs to read some interviews with Dickey and I'm starting to suspect I'm right. Not a huge deal as when can art ever not contain some of the artist? But that's when all that personal stuff I avoided talking about comes up and can ruin a reading experience. 

From this interview:
I wrote the right book at the right time. People were caught up in a savage fable of decent men fighting for their lives and killing and getting away with it. 

I like that Dickey describes this as a fable. It explains all the technical hiccups that make it a hard-to-believe story. But if it is a fable (sans the animals) it's certainly not a classic fable as there doesn't seem to be much a moral lesson in it. Or, if there is, then I'd need to re-do that "What Doesn't" section and delve into the personal. Maybe in the comments... if the mood strikes. 

(format h/t: AW)

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Life of Pi by Yann Martel


  1. "This month's pick is Michael's (obviously it is, it's from the 70s;)…"

    Am I that predictable?…don't answer that. I can see my wife's eyes and look as soon as I wrote that. Hmm…a western. I guess it could play like that, if Sam Peckinpah had done it. ;-)

    Sorry to hear it didn't exactly register with you. I know I as surprised when I sought out the novel, after the movie screening, how it played on the page. That first-person perspective so intimate to the storyline. Dickey's (now there's a surname for a story like this one) thoughts toward family and friends, which get turned up to an 11 by the time they reach the second day of the canoe trip.

    It still managed to surprise and grip me with its poetic violence and power. The author's descriptions and elegiac prose within his novel still linger, I think, in the reader's mind perhaps a bit longer than the pictures. Researching the film, came across a number of those backstories relating James Dickey's basis for the book. And yeah, perhaps there is no moral lesson. But I think the questions that come of the group's reaction still interesting.

    Rape is not a capital crime warranting the death penalty (and group leadership in striking down the rapist), but there is something of deep outrage that comes out of it. The tales asks some interesting questions without providing (or merely leaving it up to the reader to decide) clear answers. The case prosecuted and executed at the point of an arrow by Lewis. Probably the reason it's made an impression all these years later.

    Anyway, always enjoy reading your thoughts and process for these "classics", Rachel. And we have a modern one coming up next month, yes? Thanks.

  2. I'm not normally one for lone wolf/vendetta justice but I've got no problem with the "death penalty" meted out in this situation. It's just everything leading up to it and following it didn't seem to have much to say regarding violence in a greater context. I think one of the main issues was that the "world building" didn't ring true for me. I didn't actually believe anything because Dickey didn't get me there in terms of the environment or "villains" and I wasn't that invested in the "heroes."

    But, again, despite it not really connecting with me personally I was quite pleased to try out a classic.

    And, yes, indeed a modern one coming up. I like to think of it as a modern classic but I wholeheartedly admit that I am biased. :)