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A River Runs Through it and Other Stories

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  21,524 ratings  ·  1,426 reviews
Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of "A River Runs through It" that he is "haunted by waters," so have readers been haunted by his novella. A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70, Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1976, A River Runs through ...more
Paperback, 25th Anniversary Edition, 217 pages
Published October 1st 2001 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1976)
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Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
5 stars for the title novella; 3 stars for the other two stories.

It's been over twenty-five years since Robert Redford turned the title story in this collection into a film that starred the young rising actor, Brad Pitt.


The movie also starred the canyons and rivers and fish of Montana:


But I was moved not only by Brad and the scenery, but also the poetic narration, which frequently quoted the title story:
Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still
Mitch Albom
Oct 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It took Maclean most of his life to write his first book, and it reads as if he’d been saving every beautiful observation about life, family and fly fishing for one unforgettable burst. I never tire of reading it.
May 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Growing up, while the rest of my family hated the movie, I have always been inexplicably attracted to its ideas. Whenever it was on the TV, I had to sneak down to the basement to watch it. The film is one of the few out there that can speak to my innermost soul.

I finally read the book a few years ago, and found a profundity that the film barely touched. It is difficult to put into words the reason why this is one of the most significant books in my life. The plot seems common enough, when expla
May 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I understand why someone would stand in a freezing cold water to fish without a reel because I read this book.
Algernon (Darth Anyan)

"What a beautiful world it was once. At least a river of it was."

... and what a joy it turned out to be visiting this world under the guidance of Norman Maclean. The joy doesn't ignore the pain and the sadness at the core of the title novella, but acknowledges the treasures buried in the text: a hard won wisdom and serenity and most of all the satisfaction of a job so well done that it becomes a work of art, regardless if it is the capture of a trout with a Bunyan Bug No. 2 Yellow Stone Fly, a
I cannot believe the excellence of the writing. I am totally blown over. I thought I would read the first novella, the one referred to in the title, and then put the book aside. This was impossible. I had to have more.

* A River Runs Through It--5 stars without a doubt.
*Logging and Pimping and “Your Pal, Jim”--4 stars
*USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky--5 stars

The first and the third are semi-autobiographical novellas.

Norman Maclean (1902-1990) began writing fictio
Mar 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
When I was a kid, my grandma had this pinched-copper wind-up train. You gave it a couple cranks and the engine would circle the station while the music box churned a mournful tune. For reasons I couldn't explain then, and can only slightly explain now, the train always made me sad.

That's how I felt while reading Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. It's not the obvious tragedy in the first (and most famous) story in the collection that got me feeling this way. Rather, it'
Sep 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: non sissies like me who may tear up a bit at the end but that isn't crying goddamit
Shelves: novels
I really, really fucking hate to fish, but. Can you end a sentence with "but?" Did I write that correctly with the quotation marks? Do you see what I'm doing here? I'm using humor to avoid talking about my real feelings.

When I first read this book I was on a cross-country flight. I was just finishing it when we began our descent. I was tearing up, and not because I was glad to see the sprawl of Los Angeles again. That last part when he is out fishing alone and everyone he knew and loved was dea
James Thane
Aug 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite of all books, best known for the novella that opens the book and provides its title. It may be a book that could only have been written by someone in his seventies, as Maclean was when he began it. On the surface, it's a story about Maclean, his gifted but fundamentally flawed brother, their father, the land that they loved and the religion of fly fishing that bound them together. But it's also a book that has a great deal to say about the bonds that tie family members ...more
Mike W
May 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the greatest failures of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction was the prize committee's decision not to award any prize in 1977. A jury of writers had read the year's best fiction and had presented Maclean's novella to the prize committee (the committee who votes on every prize) as their winner. The prize committee was unable to come to a majority decision and when this happens they simply don't award the prize that year. It's happened a few times, the most recent in 2013, but it's that 1977 de ...more
Feb 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pub-1976
This book features one novella and a couple of short stories and they are mostly about fly-fishing, logging (before the invention of a chainsaw), and the early days of United States Forest Service. It goes into fine details of casting line (which apparently is "an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o'clock"), finding a good sawing partner and ideal sawing rhythm, and the methods of extinguishing wildfires in the early twentieth century; generally the sort of thing e ...more
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

A near perfect novella, carved into a near perfect book; a beautiful thing. That is all I have to say about that. Well, perhaps a literary/geologic inequality as a postscript:

Prose + Structure > Time + Ablation
Aug 02, 2010 rated it did not like it
I feel that this book has a target audience: people who like fly fishing, and that's it. I mean, I get that there are family aspects and even some stuff about religion. But it's buried under so much crap about fly fishing that by the time it gets to anything else, you don't really care, because you know the book is going to go right back to freaking fly fishing. I mean, the book even kind of sums up if a person is "beautiful" or "a bastard" due to how much the like fly fishing. And I must say, f ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”

I absolutely loved these stories, especially A River Runs Through It. It’s breathtaking. I knew I loved the film, but it’s been many years since I’ve seen it, so the story really felt fresh. All of the stories are pretty fantastic. I highly recommend this on audio. Superb narration.
"You like to tell true stories, don't you?" he asked, and I answered, " Yes, I like to tell stories that are true."
Then he asked, "After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don't you make up a story and the people to go with it."
"Only then will you understand what happened and why."

Many people think that this book is a memoir, but it is not. Norman Maclean did have a brother named Paul, and that brother was murdered in 1938, but this is a work of fiction. I've been having a lot of
Michael Finocchiaro
I know exactly nothing about fly fishing and I have never been to Montana, but boy did this book make me want to learn! Maclean talks with such a passion in the eponymous story that the mood is infections. The prose is languid and beautiful as is the story of passing generations and their passion for nature. The other two stories are more humorous and still great reading. A well-deserved, light-hearted Pulitzer for 1978.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I was actually wooed into reading this book by a glowing review. I wish my experience had come even a little bit close to how that reader felt about the book, because I wouldn't have ended up feeling like my time had been wasted.

And honestly, this was a huge slog. Not caring much about fly-fishing or lumberjacking, I didn't start out primed to enjoy the content. But some authors are still able to pull me in with strength of characters or an interesting story, even with settings or scenarios I am
Mar 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
this is one of those books my mother has been telling me to read for what feels like my whole life. the opening sentence, about jesus' disciples being fly fisherman and john, the favorite, being a dry-fly fisherman, was quoted and referred to on the screen porch in the afternoon, at the dinner table in the evening, and in the morning on the way to church. naturally, i have fought reading it tooth and nail.

but mama was right. it is unbelievable. the title story is beautiful and heartbreaking, an
Elizabeth A
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, audio
I love the movie based on this story, but had not read the novella, so when the folks at Literary Disco raved about it, it moved to the top of my TBR pile.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Ivan Doig. This is really a meditation. A meditation on nature and fly fishing, on fathers and sons, on love and loss, on the push and pull of siblings. I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this on my evening walks along Boston Harbor, and plan to watch the movie again soon.
Jun 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is probably my favorite book of all times. The story is simple with great characters and the writing is incredible. The last passage still gives me goosebumps and I've read it so many times. He certainly has a way with language!
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Who would have thought that a story with so much description of fly fishing could have universal appeal? Lesser writers would have required hundreds of pages and still not been able to capture the tender strength, the beauty and ultimate weakness in quiet, ordinary brotherly love. The title story was so perfect that it left me in a place beyond words. Maclean never got in the way of his story. He simply invited the reader along with the narrator, his brother and brother-in-law one summer and all ...more
Barnabas Piper
Dec 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a collection, these short stories were pretty blasé, but A River Runs Through It was SO good as to make up for the others. It was the curve breaker - a masterfully understated and sublime story.
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 1992 my wife and I and my parents saw a new movie directed by Robert Redford. A River Runs Through It had masterful and beautiful cinematography and starred a young and not-yet-famous Brad Pitt. An early scene in the movie depicts a young child of about 5 or 6 who stubbornly refuses to eat his oatmeal -- spending an entire night sitting in his chair with his cold oatmeal on the table before him. This boy grows up to be the character portrayed by Brad Pitt who continues in his head-strong and ...more
"A River Runs Through It" is one of the best written stories I've ever read. Nearly a third of its 105 pages are spent describing fly fishing outings in minute detail. Having never had this experience myself, I nonetheless leaned forward, spellbound, as I read. Even these details weave perfectly into the larger focus of the story, subtly showing the beautiful relationship between two brothers and their father.

Two more stories remain to be read in this short collection, but I already wish Maclean
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: sportsmen, philosophers, plowmen, stay-at-home moms, truck drivers, loggers, prostitutes and pastors
There is a rawness to the stories that Norman Maclean tells in this collection. He lived the stories 30 or 40 years before he wrote them into this book. His writing is poetry, harsh and spare. It reminds me a little bit of Hemingway but with a more refined sense of place. Hemingway seemed to be searching for something or trying to find himself in the places he traveled. Maclean knew who he was and where he was. And where he was is the Montana that many people in other parts of this country think ...more
Carol Bakker
I tried to find something I already knew about life that might help me reach out and touch my brother and get him to look at me and himself.

A re-read of a book full of deep currents. Fly fishing with its beauty and artistry and geometry is described so appealingly, you want to shop online for a rod. The narrator's brother Paul, a man both beautiful and prodigal is the focus. The story is poignant and sad.

The other two stories are passable; they lack the punch of the first.
Jun 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reread
The story of brothers has always been fascinating to me - I still believe it to be one of the most formative, aggressive, and comforting relationships a person (I suppose I can only speak for males here) can experience. The competitiveness, the constant yearning to impress the other while still holding yourself apart, the simultaneous desire to win the validation of parents over the other, the need to have a friend, an adversary, - these are all inimitably wrapped up in the fraternal ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When you ask what makes a book a classic, this might offer a useful case study. It's difficult imagining this book winning a modern literary prize, yet it finds itself securely in any number of highly diverse literature reading lists. Add to that a repackaging and republication after a generation spurred by an as-good-as-it's-gonna-get movie (an eye-candy gem with Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt) based on the book, and, well, folks just keep reading (and being pleasantly surprised by) it.

May 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eh, this wasn't too bad, but I don't think it was really for me and it drug quite a bit in a lot of places. I would have cut down considerably, but I think that's personal taste. I can dig fiction in the trees, and even manly man stuff now and again, but this was just too much for me where that seemed to be the sole point. I needed something to get me over those sections and instead it seemed to be much of the reason for the stories at all. I just didn't dig it that much.
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
A classic masterpiece that I hoped I would enjoy more.
As many reviewers have pointed out, the writing is outstanding and the author talent for storytelling is exceptional, even though his elegy of fly fishing and logging in Montana largely failed to move me. I have little to no interest in poker playing and lumberjack brawling is not my thing. In truth, I found the slow pace at which the story moved and the repetitiveness quite tedious, and for a small book, it took me long to read.

In addition,
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Born in Clarinda, Iowa, on December 23, 1902, Maclean was the son of Clara Davidson (1873-1952) and the Rev. John Maclean (1862-1941), a Scottish Presbyterian minister, who managed much of the education of the young Norman and his brother Paul (1906-1938) until 1913. The fam

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“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.” 391 likes
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