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River Teeth

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  1,272 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
In his passionate, luminous novels, David James Duncan has won the devotion of countless critics and readers, earning comparisons to Harper Lee, Tom Robbins, and J.D. Salinger, to name just a few. Now Duncan distills his remarkable powers of observation into this unique collection of short stories and essays.

At the heart of Duncan's tales are characters undergoing the com
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Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 1st 1996 by The Dial Press (first published 1995)
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Community Reviews

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Sparrow
One summer in high school, I lived at this camp on the Oregon coast. It was kind of a run-down place that a family owned. They would let high-school kids come there and run the place as staff while different groups of campers from different types of churches and high-school groups would come through. The girl staffers slept in bunks in one house, and the guys slept in this apartment over the gym. It was all kind of Empire Records, if that movie is actually how I remember it from watching it in h ...more
Kerri Stebbins
Feb 12, 2012 Kerri Stebbins rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Kerri by: Matt
I can't properly review this set of stories without getting emotional and I'm not in the mood to get emotional, so I'll just say: David James Duncan gets me. And I only wish I'd known about this book in 1995 when I was cutting some of my biggest of all river teeth.


[Five stars for multiple stories that will no doubt forever ebb and flow through my literary memory.]
Megan
Apr 09, 2009 Megan rated it it was amazing
I re-read all the non-fictional accounts in this book (which are interspersed with stories), looking for good sample essays for my students. Not at all helping myself to narrow it down, I dog-eared every single one. After years of debating it with myself, Duncan is my all-time favorite writer. Now, I'm not picky and I've never met a book I didn't at least respect (it's hell writing those things I'll wager), but Duncan's style is just the style I'd choose for myself. He's the one I'd emulate, the ...more
notgettingenough
Jun 23, 2011 notgettingenough rated it really liked it
Ever since starting this, I've wondered how to review it without spoiling it.

I don't just mean the risks of giving it away. I mean I kept wanting to cut expressions and sentences and ideas out and paste them here, but even as I pictured it each time, while sitting alongside the lake being infused by the beauty both of this book and the setting, and the joy of the company I was in, I felt it would cheapen and spoil the things I was trying to show off.

I confess, the last few stories did not live
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Matt
Mar 14, 2012 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Music is just a word for something we love largely because it consists of things that words can't express. Likewise, the heart is just a word for something in us that music sometimes touches." And these stories are precisely the same sort of thing, river teeth that linger, a bit of language here and there lost in love, the moment that stretches on. They're the best of Duncan's formidable gifts when they're on, these words, and they're of the same stock as our most pungent experiences, too - the ...more
Jim
Aug 17, 2012 Jim rated it it was ok


This book was recommended to me by a friend whose literary opinions I respect. Nevertheless, the book was not very interesting to me. I just read a review comparing this author with Harper Lee. Nope. I think not. The stories seemed to me to be a weird combination of Zen, surrealism and half hearted attempts at fishing stories.

I found myself resenting having to wade through countless digressions from a stories that are little more than narratives with the title "All About Me".

I will not be rea
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peg
Apr 05, 2007 peg rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people with a fondness for short stories
pick it up.
read Red Coat. it's 3 pages long. if that story doesn't make you want to read the whole book then you've only lost 10 minute of your life and save yourself $15.99.

i bet you'll buy it though.
Annie
Jul 19, 2011 Annie rated it really liked it
good altogether, again touching on his favorite subjects of fishing, water, baseball, religion.

my favorite essays were:
The Garbageman's Daughter
River Teeth: a Definition
Kali's Personal
The Mickey Mantle Koan

there were probably a couple of other really good ones, but i can't recall them now. he's always taking me by surprise by his imaginative rants. and he comes in with these short stories in all different angles, taking on all different personalities. some work better than others, but as a whole
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Eric
Jan 20, 2017 Eric rated it it was amazing
The prose of David James Duncan is viscerally emotional to me. He's unquestionably my favorite author. The short stories of River Teeth bring together an unassociated conglomerate of treasures that can easily be enjoyed at one's intermittent leisure. I spread the book out over a year so I could choose my most optimalistic moments of enjoyment and also, simply to avoid having it come to an end.
His themes are steeped in wildness and my heart beats perfectly in tandem with its Pacific Northwest sp
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Jeff
Feb 16, 2016 Jeff rated it it was ok
David James Duncan, River Teeth: Stories and Writings (Doubleday 1995).

In honor of trout season opening, this seemed a perfect book to review.

My introduction to David James Duncan came through The River Why, which provides a new twist on the coming of age novel. Many of the same themes are explored in this collection of writing. There are stories about fly-fishing and baseball and dreamy worlds where a young child thinks the garbage man is just as special and mysterious as Santa Claus. Duncan pe
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Mike
Jan 23, 2010 Mike rated it liked it
To be honest, I've never liked short stories, and I wasn't all that impressed by "The Brothers K", probably because I also don't like fishing or baseball. Still, if Megan says Duncan is her favorite author, I figured I'd give it a whirl.

And it started off well. I loved "Her Idiots". Mary was looking at me anxiously trying to figure why I was laughing so hard, so I read pages of it out loud. And who could resist a writer who put these sentences on paper: "The band lit into some better-than-averag
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Longfellow
Feb 19, 2014 Longfellow rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature

Duncan is a new favorite for me. I enjoyed his novel The River Why so much that I immediately picked up this book of collected stories and non-fiction pieces. Duncan’s intro defines the term "river teeth," which refers to those parts of a downed tree that remain long after the rest of the log has decayed and disappeared; these are the “knots,” which are harder and thus significantly resistant to breaking down in the organic process.

This title perfectly represents this collection: each of these p
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John Orman
Mar 15, 2014 John Orman rated it liked it
David Duncan here weaves his remembrances into short stories of pointed interest, kind of like the river teeth that are formulated into these very personal tales.

I especially liked "The Mickey Mantle Koan". Back in 1965, David's brother John, who was very close to my age and also a Mantle admirer, received in the mail a baseball signed by Mantle. John and David's mother had sent the ballplayer a letter requesting the ball, noting that John did not have long to live due to multiple failed heart s
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Stacy
Aug 24, 2009 Stacy rated it liked it
Recommends it for: poets, people who love fishing
Recommended to Stacy by: my brother
The memoir sections - what Duncan calls the "River Teeth" - are extraordinary. Funny, lyrical, deep, unforgettable. They remind me of good poetry. We know these scenes are true not just because he says "this happened to me" but because as he writes it, it FEELS true. I love his description of a tragic accident at a parade; and meditation on music in reaction to a concert in the woods. The scenes of fishing make even me appreciate this activity. Unfortunately, the memoir is interspersed with fict ...more
jimstoic
Sep 12, 2007 jimstoic rated it it was amazing
This is a book of essays. I've read only one essays: "The Mickey Mantle Koan." Not only have I read it, but I also have heard the author read it (at Bumbershoot in Seattle). The audience was in tears. I mailed a photocopy of the essay to my Dad, who was amazed by it. If this essay were the only thing Duncan had ever written, it would entitle him to a place in the pantheon of twentieth-century essayists.

Why haven't I read any of the other essays? I guess I'm a little afraid of being let down. How
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Blaire
Dec 13, 2016 Blaire rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
This is a collection of pieces, some of which are short stories and some of which are memoirs/essays. I'd say it is a somewhat uneven effort, but on the whole I liked and admired it. I found the essays to be stronger than the fiction. Mr. Duncan is capable of writing prose of surpassing beauty. Some of it took my breath away. He can also be very funny. I disagree with the reviewer who claims that the longest piece (The Garbage Man's Daughter) is the key to the book. I think it is the first piece ...more
Betty
Jul 04, 2015 Betty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this gem in my library, 30 years after its pub date. This is why I love my library; it has wonderful surprises lying in wait. River teeth is described by Duncan as the last sap-laden knot of wood that is left after the river and fauna have devoured the rest of fallen trees. These final unreducible elements are what the stories in the book represent. I had no idea which, if any, of them are autobiographical, but they read like truth. From the first story, which knocked my socks off, I rea ...more
Mandy
Dec 22, 2008 Mandy rated it it was ok
This was an interesting book for me. It took me forever to read, simply because it's really great writing that I wanted to savor. However, the stories seemed to have little point. Some of them made you think a little, but they're not what I normally read, and I found them really hard to muddle through. I don't think I'd recommend it to my friends, because it's just not what we read, but it's obvious this guy really knows how to write. Mixed review, I know, but I feel pretty mixed about the book!
Glenn
Jun 27, 2009 Glenn rated it liked it
A collection of short stories, with a mix of essay and fiction. My favorites are a couple of fiction pieces. The first is called "The Garbage Man's Daughter", about a young girl who befriends the garbage man and likens him to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. The second is called "Not Rocking The Boats" about a six foot six anarchistic fly-fisherman named Jeremiah who rails against the overdone how-to fly fishing magazine articles and books.
Christy
Feb 21, 2012 Christy rated it really liked it
One of my favorite stories from the collection is "The Mickey Mantle Koan"--it rips at my heart with its truth. I will most likely use this short story with my seniors when we talk about eastern philosophy and personal philsophies. This was my second time reading the collection, but each time I find something new to appreciate in the weavings of Duncan's beautiful language. Love to have him as one of many regional artists.
Roxanne
Apr 24, 2010 Roxanne rated it liked it
This was not my favorite DJD-- he is so artful and often so hopeful and this compilitation doesn't do his intellect or his creativity justice. Qhat a testimony to Duncan's writing it is then, that this is a still a moving an effective book. All his novels are political, but this piece of mostly-non-fiction is more political and philosophical than usual and this man makes an incredible case for the natural world. Worth looking at-- but read his novels first.
Monica
Dec 08, 2012 Monica rated it really liked it
Dave James Duncan continues to be one of my favorite authors. This collection of short stories, half of which are fiction and half of which are nonfiction, was a great and beautiful read. 'Her Idiots' stood out as a favorite so much so that I have read it aloud to many people since my first reading. My other favorite was probably 'The Garbage Man's Daughter'. With that said, I really enjoyed each of the unique stories. Highly recommend.
Jared
May 29, 2013 Jared added it
Classic Duncan. Some stories were more captivating than others, but overall a great read. I especially enjoyed hearing about his brother, playing catch, and the Micky Mantle baseball. I think my grandfather would have like that one. The story about the angry broke fly fisherman and the rich river guide was too perfect, and the prison story that ended in the old growth might have been my favorite.
Ruth
Jul 18, 2008 Ruth rated it really liked it
Shelves: recently-read
Duncan's writing always engages me--he's so lyrical about the U.S. Northwest. I enjoyed nearly all of this book very much. Exceptions: The story about the overly realistic little girl went on way too long, & most of the pieces at the end of the book belabored Duncan's variety of Eastern mysticism too heavily for my taste. The anthropologist fable--meh.

But I say this humbly, as Duncan is a truly masterful writer.
Jurkovich
Dec 03, 2015 Jurkovich rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Erik
Dec 09, 2007 Erik rated it liked it
The title of the book offers a beautiful metaphor, one that has stayed with me as a "river tooth." And I'm loyal to Duncan: I listened to one of his lectures on a rainy evening in my first semester of law school. If I ever meet him, I'll thank him for that talk. It helped me over a tough part of my transition from New York to Oregon.
Jeremy Duncan
Oct 19, 2015 Jeremy Duncan rated it it was ok
I'm a huge fan of David James Duncan. maybe I was expecting too much coming off of the definitely 5 star books The Brother's K and The River Why. These short stories were hit or miss. Some of them were 5 stars, but the majority were 1 or 2 stars in my opinion. Some of the stories were very strange, and strayed far Duncan's typically compelling characters.
Kevin
Aug 30, 2007 Kevin rated it really liked it
I had such a great time with this book the first time I read it in January/February that I decided to revisit it again this summer, hitting my favorite parts. Makes me miss the Pacific Northwest and makes me want to be a writer. I'm certain to return to the PNW, but I'm not sure if I'll ever end up a writer.

This book of short stories is rough around the edges and a pure joy to read.
Ellen
Jan 05, 2008 Ellen rated it really liked it
This was a fun book to have by my bedside to read at my leisure every night. I love his metaphor of river teeth: "the time-defying knots of experience that remain in us after most of our autobiographies are gone." His style is so easy and flows so effortlessly that it's a pure pleasure to read his fictional and autobiographical stories.
Scott
Jul 22, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
Many, probably most, of the stories in this book of short stories deserve 5 stars, but there are a few that are only good. Duncan is my favorite author right now. He is sharp, witty, profound, funny and insightful and he uses words to capture and unearth in a way that reminds me of Anne Lamott in their power, but with a much, much lighter feel.
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David James Duncan (born 1952) is an American novelist and essayist, best known for his two bestselling novels, The River Why (1983) and The Brothers K (1992). Both involve fly fishing, baseball, and family.

Both received the Pacific Northwest Booksellers award; The Brothers K was a New York Times Notable Book in 1992 and won a Best Books Award from the American Library Association.

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“Music is just a word for something we love largely because it consists of things that words can't express. Likewise, the heart is just a word for something in us that music sometimes touches. ” 20 likes
“I felt a rush of trust--felt that life might be not just tolerable but beautiful, if I could only remember to find the bare Present. ” 7 likes
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