Drew's Reviews > Deliverance

Deliverance by James Dickey
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's review
Oct 10, 11

it was amazing
bookshelves: boulder-public-library
Read from October 06 to 10, 2011

A survival novel written by an illustrious poet is a strange proposition. And it certainly didn't work with To the White Sea, with its delirious, hallucinogenic prose and its antiseptically distant narrator. But Deliverance is as close to perfect as you can reasonably get.

I guess it's basically just that you hardly ever find a plot this tight (or guiltily pleasurable) in a literary novel. Dickey's prose is so nice to read: a mix between Saul Bellow's off-kilter metaphor* and Robert Penn Warren's casual Southern-inflected poetics, applied to Hemingway's subject matter. And as anyone who's seen the movie can testify, the plot moves right along, the edge-of-your-seat survival aspect hardly ever letting up once it gets going. And some of his descriptions of the canoeing and climbing are unparalleled. I can definitely say his description of Ed's night climb is the best I've ever read from a non-climber. At least I assume Dickey was a non-climber.

But what raises this book to five stars for me comes near the end. All through the book Lewis harps on the whole survival aspect of what they're doing -- that the best experiences are borne of mistakes. Things don't go according to plan, and suddenly it's Man versus Wild, or whatever. And you see Ed progress through the book, from originally not taking Lewis seriously to eventually sharing Lewis's outlook. Meanwhile he's trying to conceal a crime (or what could be construed as a crime) from some very persistent backcountry deputies. And it turns out that for Ed, there's a disturbing parallel between the visceral exultation of survival in a hostile environment and the vindictive, childlike glee of a successful deception. And the way Dickey subtly ties these two things together...well, you'd pretty much just have to read it.

*Not a metaphor per se, but at one point Dickey describes a body falling from a cliff into a river as "bursting on the rocks like a bag of jellied sticks." Excuse me? A bag of what? Is this some Southern thing I don't know about? Do people go around carrying bags of jellied sticks?
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