2016: 47. Deliverance

“It unrolled slowly, forced to show its colors, curling and snapping back whenever one of us turned loose.”

Deliverance, James Hickey


I only read Deliverance because I realized I’d been working on the Modern Library Project for ten (10!) years, and still hadn’t finished it.  (in other news, I’ve been blogging this blog for 11 years! I am so old).  That’s super pitiful, and so I’ve decided to bust it out.  Deliverance was the first of the list that I’d never read, so I got it from my amazing public library and decided to give it a go.

And I wasn’t terribly excited about it, either, because all I knew about it was the movie as a pop culture punchline, which I haven’t ever seen, but nonetheless I know about, as I’m sure you do, too.  But I’m bound and determined, so off I went,

It’s amazing.  Seriously, I loved, loved Deliverance.  It’s not even the sort of book I should like, since it’s about 1) finding yourself in the wilderness, a topic that has bored me since My Side of the Mountain, and 2) men and being men and what that means, and you KNOW I am not on board for anymore books about stupid manpain.  But it isn’t really about that at all - in fact, it seems clear to me that Dickey is taking on both of those issues as tropes and questioning whether they are worth telling at all, which, a) thank you and b) guys, we can stop writing manpain books since Dickey hashed this all out 40 years ago.

It is about four friends who decide to go for a river trip in the rural South, and the  trouble they get themselves into (you probably know what, due to pop culture).  But it really is about stripping oneself down to the essance of humanity, and what that means, and also what it means to return to real life.  I don’t think it’s about men, and manhood, per se, but rather humanity versus our barest animal natures.  And I think the story could not work with four women - certainly not in 1970, but not even today, as four women would never go off alone so carefree and certain of themselves.  We women know at a primal level that we need to be on our guard against danger in a way that (white heterosexual) men don’t.

And the writing is amazing.  That’s not usually my thing - I’m such a plot and character driven person, but Dickey was a poet as well as a novelist, and his prose is beautiful.  Not flowery, but true. I randomnly made some quotes (all from the original hardcover version, which is what the library had), but I could have pulled a million other ones that were just as good.

pg. 69

“I touched the knife hilt at my side and remembered that all men were once boys, and that boys are always looking for ways to become men.”

pg. 93

“What I thought about mainly was that I was in a place where none - or almost none - of my daily wasy of living my life would work; there was no habit I could call on.  Is this freedom? I wondered.”

What is freedom? What is humanity? Does it have value? Are our basest selves our best selves? I love how both these quotes take on “being a man”, but question it as well.  He doesn’t come down on the side of the Great White Hunter.  Is it freedom? I wonder… God, I wish one of you would read this so we could talk about it. It would make a great bookclub book.

And, finally, I cannot imagine myself watching the film after reading the book.  It is impossible to contemplate that anything starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight could touch the heart of this story.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t believe that film got it right.  You’d need Inarritu, and actors that look like people, rather than 1970’s movie stars, and poetry in film.

Modern Library Project

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017