Much has been made of Norman Maclean’s “little novel” since its publication in 1976. Even though Maclean insisted to the very end of his life in both written word and speech that his brother’s death remain a tragedy, many literary critics have resolved the tension of Paul’s death by attributing reductionist theology to the novel and Maclean. I want to suggest that this kind of “theological” thinking not only resolves a tension not to be removed by the narrator, but even more so, misreads the overarching trajectory of the novel. Maclean, rather, explores the darkness resident within a beautiful man who had mastered art and grace, not the darkness abiding in a failed and damned brother. A River Runs Through It traces the raw nature of tragedy–never to be resolved and never completely understood.
Now that fall is here again, we begin our Fall retreat for the KU fly fishing class tomorrow. We will fish, eat good food, sit by the fire, tie flies, and think through A River. I wrote this essay for Imaginatio et Ratio a few years ago: