Friday, June 21, 2013


James Dickey
Reviewed by: Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


The setting is the Georgia wilderness, where the state’s most remote white-water river awaits. In the thundering froth of that river, in its echoing stone canyons, four men on a canoe trip discover a freedom and exhilaration beyond compare. And then, in a moment of horror, the adventure turns into a struggle for survival as one man becomes a human hunter who is offered his own harrowing deliverance.

My Review

I saw this twice, once in the late 80’s and again in 1996, shortly after my husband and I got married.  I loved the movie both times I saw it, even though my husband found it utterly boring and not nearly as thrilling as Southern Comfort.  Over time, the scenes that stood out the most for me were the dueling banjos and the hillbilly rape.

Right after reading the book, I watched the movie a third time.  The first thing I noticed was that the film was quite faithful to the book.  There were significant differences, of course, mostly with the character of Ed Gentry.  The book was told entirely by him, not just the events that occurred following Ed and his friends’ preparation for their remote white-water adventure, but his thoughts about work (too much), his family (too little), and his feelings about life which bordered on the too philosophical.  

“The studio was full of gray affable men who had tried it in New York and come back South to live and die.  They were competent, though we demanded no very high standard from them, and when they weren’t working at layouts and paste-ups they would sit tilted back from the drawing board with their hands behind their heads, gazing at whatever same thing was there.”

Yawn….let’s face it, most people’s jobs are boring.  Unless you’re in a creative profession of some sort, or a circus clown, I’m not that interested in reading the nitty-gritty of people’s jobs.  Really, it’s enough for me to know that you work (or not).

Then again, the reader needs to get a glimpse of this humdrum aspect of the men’s lives.  It contrasts so sharply with their wilderness adventure, the remote landscape, the feats of strength, and the strong bonds of men trying to survive.

This was written in 1970, so I understand that men were the primary breadwinners and work was a large measure of their success, while women earned less than half their salaries and were encouraged to take secretarial classes rather than pursue more lucrative business careers. 

“The women were almost all secretaries and file clerks, young and semi-young and middle-aged, and their hair styles, piled and shellacked and swirled and horned, and almost every one stiff, filled me with desolation.  I kept looking for a decent ass and spotted one in a beige skirt, but when the girl turned her barren, gum-chewing face toward me, it was all over.”


If you can get past the blatant sexism and the dated feel, this is a really good story that explores in depth the wild and unpredictable nature of man and environment.  I loved the vivid descriptions of the harsh and beautiful landscape, the turbulent water, and the enormous physical challenges undertaken by Ed and his companions.  The character descriptions were rather sketchy, but this is not a book so much about people’s lives, but how they deal with adversity.  There is a strong sense of camaraderie here, no wishy-washy feelings or sentimentality.   This is a brutal, harrowing story that drags at times, while at other times I wanted more.

It is well worth reading and an excellent film too.

Also posted at Goodreads.

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