Norman Maclean’s autobiographical novella is surprisingly suspenseful and laugh-out-loud funny. I never expected to write such a statement when I first decided to read A River Runs Through It.

The film is one of my favorites. I’ve seen it so many times the DVD is worn out. Because I was aware of the humor and tragedy of life that lay within the pages of the novel before I started to read, suspense was the last element of storytelling I expected to encounter. The suspense is driven by Maclean’s brazen humor and the combination allows A River Runs Through It to flow in soul-wrenching harmony.

Riveting storytelling is grounded in details and Maclean’s selection and communication is masterful. His descriptions are often ethereal and transport you to a meditative state in one line, then slam you into reality in the next.

If you have never seen a bear going over the mountain, you have not seen the deed
reduced to its essentials. A bear leaves the earth like a bolt of lightening retrieving
itself and making its thunder backwards.

A River Runs Through It shows us a family of distinctly different people who respect each other’s space enough to agree to disagree and love each other regardless.

You can love completely without complete understanding.

This may sound like an easy task, but if you have ever attempted to write a novel or short story you know delivering the goods is no ice cream social. All character actions must link to intention and every intention needs motivation with resonance, otherwise the reader doesn’t care. Craft books often suggest a light touch when revealing intention, motivation and theme. Maclean is not subtle. His younger self, who narrates the novella, is blatant about what he wants and what he fails to accomplish. His ability to expose his regrets endears us to him. His journey to unravel the mystery of his brother’s life becomes our own, along with the lessons learned.

The underlying power of A River Runs Through It is wrapped up in Maclean’s wisdom about living. I don’t know whether his insight is due to the fact that he didn’t write this novella until he was in his seventies, or because the rhythm and wonders of life were second nature to him as a result of learning to fly fish before he was old enough to master cursive writing, or because his father was a Presbyterian minister. But the why doesn’t matter.

As in all great storytelling what reverberates are the zingers of truth; the sentences we return to again and again for their beauty and enlightenment. A River Runs Through It is packed with such gems. It is more than a novella it is a reference for life.

Step into the rapids of life with A River Runs Through It.