This story begins in the pool of stagnant water of Gus’s life as a boy growing up in Portland, Oregon. He is a prodigal fisher-kid, born to a pair as compatible as Lord Byron and Calamity Jane. The only points on which the three of them converge is the water and the fish that sway within, and their affection for Gus's little brother, Bill Bob. Bill Bob wants nothing to do with water, but swims in metaphysical waters like one born with gills.
Gus's family is in a state of perpetual conflict, particularly with regards to the method by which fish should be taken from the water. The battle of worms vs. flies rages on a daily basis, revealing a deep disconnect between his parents.
After graduation without honors, Gus's river leaps the log jam, and glides post-haste to a cabin on Oregon's fictitious Tamawanis river. Isolated, he spends all his time following his Ideal Schedule: Sleeping, fishing, eating, drinking and sleeping again. Instead finding utter happiness, one such as myself would expect, he sinks and spins as though he's caught in the eddy of a waterfall. His philosophical minded friend, Titus, offers him hand and pulls him free.
Free flowing again the story meanders through remembrances of his childhood, through ancient forests that fell victim to refir madness, through Sherar’s falls fished by the Native American, Tomas Bigeater, who remembers his spirit, and by other Native Americans who cannot. A branch of the river flows through the city of Portland and dies, while the main story flows on. The river is rife with riffles of laughter, between pools of deep clarity, and eddies of beauty, and murky stretches of disorientation.
Sometimes the river passes through the physical into the metaphysical, to return luminous. It is alive with spirited trout, minnows of greatness and longing, ugly yet delectable nymphs, and worms wrapped in mud like Twinkies. This story-river makes fun of itself, gives and gets, despairs and hopes. It bubbles from it's spring wondering at its purpose, finds its spirit, all the while asking, “Why?”
David James Duncan has written a beautiful river that I will float, fish, skinny dip, and refresh my spirit in again, and again, and again.
hannahfishead, February 16, 2010 (view all comments by hannahfishead)
This is one of my all-time favourite books. It is about fishing, philosophy and finding love. I yearn to go fishing every time I read it. I would recommend this book to anyone. You don't have to be a fisher to appreciate this story.
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Steven Winchester, October 27, 2008 (view all comments by Steven Winchester)
In addition to being a fantastic novel plot-wise, The River Why does an excellent job incorporating what so few novels do...extensive philosophical discussion. Viewed through the lens of a young man torn between his father's almost religious devotion to fly fishing and his mother's unswerving dedication to bait-fishing, we are exposed to the relevant issues of environmental stewardship and self-awareness. Everything his father holds dear comes from a treatise on angling, and everything his mother holds dear aims to antagonize her husband and masks itself as down-home common sense. As the main character, Gus, grows up and leaves home for a Waldenesque solitary existence fishing on a Pacific Northwest river, he finds himself questioning life, and even the merit of his favorite hobby - fishing. The degradation of the natural world seems to delegitimize this central element of his life, and he begins an inward journey of self-discovery. Love, friendship, knowledge and respect of one's landbase all come into play, and Duncan's quirky but intellectual humor pervades the text throughout. Reading The River Why not only enriches the reader's understanding of fishing, environmental issues and relationships...it enriches the reader's understanding of him/herself. A truly great piece of literature by a gifted author.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"A veritable epic....Moving, rhapsodic in its intensity." Publishers Weekly
by The Houston Post,
"In the company of Catch-22 and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
Since its publication by Sierra Club Books more than two decades ago, The River Why has become a classic, standing with Norman Macleans A River Runs Through It as our eras most widely read fiction about fly-fishing. This captivating and exuberant tale is told by Gus Orviston, an irreverent young fly fisherman and one of the most appealing heroes in contemporary American fiction.
Leaving behind a madcap, fishing-obsessed family, Gus decides to strike out on his own, taking refuge in a remote riverbank cabin to pursue his own fly-fishing passion with unrelenting zeal. But instead of finding fishing bliss, Gus becomes increasingly troubled by the degradation of the natural world around him and by the spiritual barrenness of his own life. His desolation drives him on a reluctant quest for self-discovery and meaning—ultimately fruitful beyond his wildest dreams.
Stylistically adept and ambitious in scope, The River Why is a touching and powerful novel by an important voice in American fiction.
In a new Afterword written for this twentieth-anniversary edition, David James Duncan reflects on the genesis of his book and on the surprising link between fishing and wisdom.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and eBooks — here at Powells.com.