Book Review–Deliverance By James Dickey

DeliveranceI saw the movie version, at least the edited for TV version of Deliverance years ago, long before I ever knew it was based on a book by James Dickey.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t have even known it was a book, had it not been for Jason Black mentioning it to me as part of the review he did for me on my novel, The Forgotten Road.  He mentioned it, not just because James Dickey and I both wrote about canoe trips gone wrong (though in different ways), but because of how writing about the solitude of the wilderness can be difficult to capture with the written word.  You can write hundreds of thousands of words about trees and rivers, but you will lose the reader’s attention very quickly.  The story has to turn from one of physical challenges, to one of intellectual and spiritual challenges, or the exhaustion of your characters will be felt by the reader, but not in a good way.  You don’t get tired of the river or the trees in Deliverance.  The river is a character as out of control as the backwoods men who terrorize the city folk in their canoes.  The river is alive and clean and rough and cold, is both friend and foe, something to be revered, and something to be feared.

I admit, I was nervous reading this book, as the movie is famous for the scene that makes nearly every man uncomfortable. But I was surprised at how quickly that scene passed.  Whether it was actually short, or just flew by because the writing was so good, is hard to remember.  Perhaps the perspective of the written story diminishes the effect just a bit, or perhaps the movie spent more time on it, I ‘m not sure.

But the rest of the story, thought dated a bit now after forty years, still rings true.  At the heart is a man trying to figure out what is important, and how far he is willing to go to survive.  It’s a great tale, with well done writing and interesting characters.  It’s not for everyone, but I enjoyed dropping myself into that world for a couple of nights.  Dickey paints the reader right into the scene, and it’s a pretty cool place to be.

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