Author: James Dickey
Publication Date: 1970
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 2/8/16
Summary: Four men head into the mountains of Georgia with the ambition of canoeing down the river. What starts as a casual journey from city to country turns into a true return to the most basic of human instincts: survival. Events transpire and decisions are made with will forever alter them.
What I Thought: As with many books on the Modern Library list, I had never heard of this one. I had no idea what it was about or if I would like it at all. Going in with so little information proved to be a wonderful thing in this case. The twists and turns kept me on the metaphorical edge of my seat.
I have realized I especially love the 100 Best Novels list for keeping me guessing. I don't expect these authors to take the standard literary paths or deliver cliché plots or characters. They must be on the list for a reason, so I expect them to take a road less traveled. This makes reading so much more enjoyable for me as I truly want to discover both the journey and the ending; I do not assume I already know.
I do not want to spoil too much of this book because it was that exact unknowing that kept me reading. Dickey did a beautiful job of foreshadowing; nothing was given away, but the prose was heavy with anticipation. I appreciation how he turned a discussion of survival and what it means into a practical reality with those conversationalists suddenly facing shocking tests of survival they never would have imagined. Survival turned out to mean something far different than they had original imagined it to be, and I loved that twist.
The book, while jarring at points due to its intense content, is beautifully written. Dickey's prose is easy to read but heavy with meaning and intention. If it were not for that one scene that changes everything (I don't want to give it away!), I could see this being a very popular book for high school English teachers to assign.
The more I think about this book, the more I appreciate its depth. It was every so slightly out of my comfort zone and I appreciate it for that. It stretched me and made me think. To me, that makes it quite worthy of being on this list.
Will I Re-Read: Probably
A Reduced Review: A casual canoe trip becomes an exploration of human instincts and the consequences, both internal and external, of our choices.