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The River Why

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  10,926 ratings  ·  1,001 reviews
This captivating and exuberant tale is told by Gus Orviston, an irreverent young fly fisherman and one of the most appealing heroes in contemporary American fiction.

Leaving behind a madcap, fishing-obsessed family, Gus decides to strike out on his own, taking refuge in a secluded cabin on a remote riverbank to pursue his own fly-fishing passion with unrelenting zeal. But

Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 1st 1984 by Bantam Books (first published January 1st 1983)
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Brett No, I’m not a huge fan of fishing and enjoyed the book. It certainly revolves around fishing but it’s a coming of age story.
Janet 402, not including the Afterword, which takes it to 414. Maybe it can squeak by.

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Average rating 4.23  · 
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 ·  10,926 ratings  ·  1,001 reviews

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Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2016, dost
There comes a time when the growing frustration with the generally unfair paradoxes of existence becomes so unbearable that one needs to gain distance from himself to see clearly, to listen with the eyes and hear with the heart.
Or simply one reaches a moment when action and emotional implication start to feel so forced, so disjointed, that a clean break is needed to reconnect again with the invisible chord of communion that binds us to others.

Like the convoluted, meandering river that exists onl
Vit Babenco
Mar 09, 2021 rated it liked it
During my entire life I angled not a single fish nor had a wish to so the fishy side of the story interested me much less than the philosophical.
The narrator starts his personal tale with his parents’ honeymoon…
…honeymoons are intended to seal the union of bride and groom till death does them part. But whereas we imagine the usual chemistry of such excursions to be a uniting through corporeal and spiritual familiarity – a sharing of meals, scenic wonders, wines and bathrooms, of kisses, caresses
Carol Anne
Feb 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
David James Duncan is a hero in our home, an integral part of my oldest son's coming of age. In 1991 Aaron was going to turn 16, and I had just finished reading The River Why for the first time. For dozens of reasons I fell in love with the book, and wanted to share the book with Aaron, and avid reader himself.

The paperback copy I had was a later edition, and I sent my copy to the Sierra Club in San Francisco, explaining that I knew they would not share the author's address, could they please s
Jul 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Well, this is now my favorite book, bar none. In fact, I liked this book so much I feel half inclined to go back and deduct a star from all of my other 'read' books just so this 5 star one can stand out.

It had aspects of all of my favorite books combined.
Comedy and fantastic writing that is at times beautifully simple, and intellectually dense.
Every character stood out as an incredibly interesting individual, so much so that if the author hadn't of said this was a work of fiction himself I wo
”Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.”
--- Henry David Thoreau

Part spiritualishy-quest, part fishing tales, part family drama, add in a quirky, fanciful introduction to romance, a coming-of-age tale, some interestingly eccentric characters with their own strange stories to share, and a reverent approach to Nature – all set in / on / near the mythical Tamawanis River in Oregon.

I added this book to my to-read list three years ago, right after I
Joy D
At age twenty, Gus Orviston tells of his life growing up in rural Oregon in a fishing family. His dad writes about fishing. His parents met while fishing. They constantly debate the merits of bait versus fly fishing. Upon graduating from high school, he believes his life will be complete if he can achieve the “ultimate schedule” of doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and fishing. So, he moves away from home to an isolated cabin near a stream. Gus starts to notice the impact of human activity on ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, favorites
O the gallant fisher’s life,
It is the best of any!
‘Tis full of pleasure, void of strife
And ’tis beloved by many.

Sometimes it’s good to go outside your comfort zone and try something completely different. I’ve never been interested in fishing, despite some close friends’ repeated invitations to come along on their trips. Turns out I’ve been a fisherman all my life and didn’t know it. Gus, the young man who is crazy about fishing in this seminal novel, is the one who opened my eyes to the deeper
Aug 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Some books you just read.
Some books draw you in.
Some books read you-- and in the process lay you out, naked and utterly absorbed in every sensation and feeling as though you were just born.

Welcome to The River Why.

I never thought of fishing and philosophy as a duo. I don't even particularly care that much about fishing (despite having done so with my grandfather when I was a little girl).
But Duncan has created a story so rich in thought and depth, that even the technicalities of fly making, cast
I am two parts surprised to one part in love with this book. There's no denying that it is a coming of age story about a quiet analyical fisherman who finds his own peace and place in the world by developing his own agnostic religion. And boy does he fish a lot! Boor--ring. So what compelled me to tear through this novel at my desk, and cramped on a kitchen table, and sneak peeks on the bus? The narrator is a doll. I've never met a person like him yet major aspects of his character run through s ...more
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This novel tells the story of young fishing prodigy Gus Orviston and his madcap, fishing-obsessed family. After graduating from high school, Gus leaves home so he can be free of distractions and devote himself entirely to fishing. In the process and despite himself, Gus comes to discover the joys of community, romantic love, and eventually, God.

It’s hard for me to express just how much I love this book. One of the biggest reasons why is because it’s laugh-out-loud hysterical. There are just not
James R
Jan 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I tried really hard to love this book, but couldn't. I kept hoping it would grab me. Generally I find books whose authors respect and revere the natural world, who write knowledgeably and often beautifully about it, and whose characters struggle with existential questions to be immensely satisfying and engaging, so I think I understand why others count this as a 5 star favorite. My reaction was much the same as the editors who rejected it and who Duncan described in the Afterward he wrote for th ...more
Sep 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Brilliant book. I've read this so many times, and recommended/bought copies for so many friends, I've lost count. A deeply moving, hysterically funny, perceptive, spiritual story of one man figuring out the "why" of it all. ...more
Kevin Neilson
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
There is a good book hidden inside The River Why, though I couldn't call it a good book. It's a bit of a mess, all over the map. In the afterword the author says some publishers wanted to whittle it down. Sometimes the publishers are right! Some parts are really funny, namely the sections about his parents and upbringing. I really liked the romance, even though it seemed like the unrealistic fantasy of a fly-fishing teenager (or immature adult like yours truly). I can assure you that few fly-fis ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
God (or religion, spirituality, the One, etc) can be found anywhere and should be a product of your own idiosyncratic life experiences. Gus, the narrator/fisher hero of The River Why, finds his God among the river. The line of light. Prying himself away from toxic relationship with his family, Gus endeavors an "ideal" life along the river Why somewhere near Oregon. Through isolation from others and a total fixation on his singular passion, fishing, Gus pursues his notion of the perfect life, but ...more
Dec 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have really mixed feelings about this book. I keep going back and forth between giving it 3 stars and giving it 4 (yes, I know, it's super important and I should anguish over getting it right). I guess I've settled on 4 for now. I loved a lot of this book. But, there was something strange about it, like, some things didn't seem to "fit" with the rest of the feel of the book. For example, the majority of the characters other than Gus were very exaggerated and cartoonish. So much so that the las ...more
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about a young man trying to find his way and place in the world. He lives and breaths fishing. It’s all he wants to do, until he realizes it isn’t. This book is more about finding meaning in things and one’s connection to nature, than a fishing book. It at times was a little too wordy and philosophical than I typically care for (I often found my mind wandering or my eyes getting heavy at the end of the day); but at times I was laughing so loud as well. I enjoyed this book, but not a ...more
Well. You don't have to be a fisherman to like this, but you do have to put up with a lot of schmaltzy philosophy and pseudo-spirituality. I finished it because I liked the writing itself; it's often lovely. But Gus is annoying, his friends odd, and the quest much too long. I felt like I was slogging upstream in waders over the three nights it took to read this (I kept falling asleep....)

Still, some bits do kinda-sorta appeal:

In praise of his Ma, who claims to have 'dumb luck,' Gus says, "I thin
May 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I know beans about fly-fishing, and as a kid I grew to hate fishing because of early morning forays with my father and one of his brothers wherein I worked at cutting bait, cleaning fish, and other cold, unpleasant tasks. This is a great novel even though it looks like it's about fishing. It's a love story, a story of the struggle with God, and a conservationist story. Read it, read it, read it! ...more
Rick Slane reads more reviews less
A book about life through the eyes of a fisherman, I thought the writing style was similar to that of Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume. ...more
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I have never been that interested in fishing, and this book makes me want to fish! It's so clever...funny, (the opening paragraph had me laughing) and enlightening. Gus, the main character grows up fishing, in this crazy, fishing-obsessed, little family, and then he strikes out on his own, comes to know himself and what's really, most important to him.

Towards the end of the book, I read this passage, and then re-read it and re-read at least ten times...

"Dawn came up behind the hills, extending
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I first read this novel in April 2004. I chose to re-read it during the past week while I was on a military mission outside of the continental US. During a long flight and in the evenings following very long tiring days of stressful work, I re-read one of my all-time favorite works of fiction. This novel is not just about fishing (although it helps to be a fisherman and understand the allure of the pastime) but about finding balance in life, finding one's heart and a connection to a Higher Power ...more
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
The river runs deep for this fisherman. The story of angler Gus Orviston's search for meaning reads like a combination of coming-of-age drama, mythology, philosophy, humor, and even a romance. Each chapter is prefaced with a few lines of esoteric poetry. Themes of humans' relationships to Nature and the God question enter into this entertaining novel.

Gus Orviston's story begins with his total dedication to fishing, a birthright, it seems, since his Ma is an earthy fisherwoman who uses bait, and
Aug 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-star, 2021
2nd time around...still just as good
Josh Worden
May 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This book was so good that it's in my top 10 of all time, and it's about fishing. I don't even fish!

I feel like David James Duncan uses the English language the way a baseball player uses a bat. Anybody can swing a bat, but a baseball player knows how to do something special with it.

Anyone watching a baseball player, or anyone reading David James Duncan, can perceive the art in front of them, but if they pick up the bat or a pen and try to replicate the artistry, they will surely strike out. Per
May 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
"And so I learned what solitude really was. It was raw material- awesome, malleable, older than men or worlds or water. And it was merciless -for it let a man become precisely what he alone made of himself."

First let me say that I am neither religious nor "spiritual". I find books about discovering one's spirituality tiresome. I am solidly in the secular materialist camp. So with that said, let me now say that I loved this book. I loved it despite the moral of the tale, which is that God is (qui
Nov 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of my most often read books. This book changed my understanding of what writing, what a novel, could be. Laugh out loud funny, philosophical, spiritual, environmental, social, funny, wise, funny, enlightening. And, did I say funny? It is filled with heart and outrage, pathos and meaning without being saccharine and condescending.

I've read this book at least ten times, twice out loud to my wife. My copy has fallen apart, and today I found a mint condition one in my local used book store. My f
Jul 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Unequivocally my favorite book.

The River Why incorporates everything I could ever want in a book- it's hilarious, its spiritual, it involves fishing, and it's (again) hilarious.

The book is a fictional autobiography about a man who leaves his nutty family to discover himself as a sort of recluse-fisherman. He makes great friendships along the way, and eventually comes to appreciate his part in the bigger picture. It's a great book, nearly impossible to categorize, but trust me when I say that t
Sep 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
They say you don't have to love fishing to enjoy this book. They're wrong. ...more
Owen Toepfer
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
David James Duncan’s prose is at times miraculous. Not only is his writing *aesthetically* masterful, but each sentence is packed with real *substance*. He knows he is virtuosic, but he also knows how not to overdo it (unlike many authors in his class). Think David Foster Wallace if David Foster Wallace had exhibited more authorial restraint. After a while, one starts to pick up on his favorite literary tricks—but they retain much of their luster nevertheless.

Essentially a story about a confused
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book caught my heart hook, line, and sinker. So clever and fulfilling with just the right amount of tasteful swearing.
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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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