Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The River Why” as Want to Read:
The River Why
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The River Why

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  10,074 ratings  ·  924 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The River Why, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Carol Anne I believe that a child that age would need to be a very precocious reader? I had a test with my own pr (precocious reader) who would come to me with m…moreI believe that a child that age would need to be a very precocious reader? I had a test with my own pr (precocious reader) who would come to me with my copies of books, asking to read it. The Hobbit, in third grade, for example, I had him read three pages and give me a synopsis, so I could check his grasp of the vocabulary, and his grasp of the overall gist of the book. If he could pass those "tests" I would agree to the reading.

My own son was 16 when he read TRW, it totally captivated his heart and soul, he is 44 now, and it the book that binds us completely. If you have read it yourself (I am assuming so) then you know what the stumbling blocks would be, and you can make an educated guess on the effects that might concern you. I adore that you have the good fortune of a reader on your hands! (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.23  · 
Rating details
 ·  10,074 ratings  ·  924 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The River Why
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: The river flows in you
Recommended to Dolors by: The voices in my head
Shelves: dost, read-in-2016
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
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: favorites, 2020
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
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
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
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.
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
Rick Slane
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
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
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
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
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
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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!
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 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
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
Jun 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: john, naturalist, memoir
I was so drawn in by the first half of the book that I had to slow down so I didn't finish it too fast. The second half was more of a bag of bits and pieces and the religiosity when it came, came as a bit of an unwelcome surprise. So not a perfect polished gem of a book - but perhaps that was a good thing - the eclectic mix lets you enjoy what you want and pass by what you don't want. The book is philosophy, not fishing, and absorbing, stimulating and fun.
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.
Gina Whitlock
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was such a wonderful book and I don't like fly fishing at all. I've never been or want to go, but one day I will read this book again. It was THAT good. I like David James Duncan a lot - his book The Brothers K was also wonderful. This book is the story of a young flyfisherman growing up and coming to terms with his adult life.
Matthew McDavid
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely incredible. One of the best books I’ve ever read. One of those books that makes me sad I’m finished and can’t experience it for the first time again.

The last quarter of this book is a spiritual journey and I have no idea what it was that I experienced. But I loved it.
Aug 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Your inner nineteen-year-old
Recommended to Goody by: My parents
Shelves: favorites
I started August 27—the day I bought my new favorite book for a dollar—with some anxious-making personal assistant work followed by enjoyable, effortless quality time with a pseudo-ex who also offered me casting referrals over lunch. My appointments fufilled, I walked uptown from Union Square and sat in Madison Square Park to write. It was one of those wonderful, optimistic days when the shade is just right, and somehow the smells of a park on Manhattan—chlorophyll, pigeons, exhaust, cooking con ...more
Dec 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I guess every now and then we all have to step out of our reading comfort zones. My stomping ground is modern sci fi/fantasy, so this meditative piece of realistic fiction from the 80s made for quite a change. Had it not been recommended to me by my parents, I wouldn't have picked it up but hey, sometimes they have a point.

It's a strange little book, to be sure, oddly written (but beautifully, in my opinion). It's not for everyone. Personally, as someone with a fondness for the natural world and
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: [Poll Ballot] The River Why by David James Duncan - 4 stars 1 7 Sep 10, 2020 09:32AM  
The novel vs. the movie 2 42 Jul 06, 2013 12:05AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • A River Runs Through it and Other Stories
  • Mink River
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder for the Spiritual and Nonspiritual Alike
  • Sometimes a Great Notion
  • A River Runs Through It
  • Trout Bum
  • Desert Solitaire
  • The Woman Lit by Fireflies
  • The Fool's Progress
  • The Longest Silence: A Life In Fishing
  • A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There
  • The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon
  • Walkabout
  • Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table
  • Lonesome Dove  (Part 1 of 3)
  • The Spectator Bird
  • The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature
See similar books…
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.

Film adaptation

Related Articles

Danielle Evans was just 26 when she released her short story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self in 2010, a multi-award-winning...
15 likes · 1 comments
“At last the cold crept up my spine; at last it filled me from foot to head; at last I grew so chill and desolate that all thought and pain and awareness came to a standstill. I wasn't miserable anymore: I wasn't anything at all. I was a nothing-- a random configuration of molecules. If my heart still beat I didn't know it. I was aware of one thing only; next to the gaping fact called Death, all I knew was nothing, all I did meant nothing, all I felt conveyed nothing. This was no passing thought. It was a gnawing, palpable emptiness more real than the cold.” 53 likes
“When people are kids their parents teach them all sorts of stuff, some of it true and useful, some of it absurd hogwash (example of former: don't crap your pants; example of latter: Columbus discovered America). This is why puberty happens. The purpose of puberty is to shoot an innocent and gullible child full of nasty glandular secretions that manifest in the mind as confusion, in the innards as horniness, upon the skin as pimples, and on the tongue as cocksure venomous disbelief in every piece of information, true or false, gleaned from one's parents since infancy. The net result is a few years of familial hell culminating in the child's exodus from the parental nest, sooner or later followed by a peace treaty and the emergence of the postpubescent as an autonomous, free-thinking human being who knows that Columbus only trespassed on an island inhabited by our lost and distant Indian relatives, but who also knows not to crap his pants.” 33 likes
More quotes…