Tuesday, April 28, 2015

mini book reviews: the river why

I decided to start a series I'm calling "mini book reviews," because I read tons of books right now, and I don't have time to write full-fledged reviews, but I want to share them with you all anyway. I'm going to write whatever I can write in 15 minutes. Ready, go!

I'm starting with David James Duncan's The River Why, which I just "read" as an audiobook. Audiobooks are the best, by the way! I love listening to them while I'm cooking, doing dishes, gardening, folding laundry, etc. I get them from my public library.

This was my third time reading The River Why, and each time has been a very different experience. I read it in college for a class, and I hated it. I was so bored with the details about fly fishing and bait fishing that I didn't really see the humor or the philosophical poignancy of it. I think I pretty much skipped most of the last third and just read the end, so I missed the best parts. (Sorry, if you're reading this, Professor Higgins!)

The second time I read it, I loved it! My husband is a fly fisherman, so I had a bit of a vested interest in understanding the sport. Since I didn't have a time limit to finish reading it, I read it slowly and realized how funny it is. I was in a similar life stage to the main character, Gus, just growing up and leaving home, trying to figure out what life is all about, gathering folks who seem to know something about such things, and building a sense of who my people, my community, were going to be. I loved Gus's internal quests that required natural spaces as well as times sitting around reading books and/or talking to people. I loved the questions and the mystery, the hinted answers, the resolution, the humor threading through it all and the sense of the transcendent-immanent Ultimate.

Having been to seminary since reading the book last, this time I found myself analyzing Duncan's theology and philosophy with a more nuanced understanding. I agreed with some of his characters' philosophies, but there is also a subtle hierarchy, where he suggests through the philosopher in the story that the ultimate created being is humanity, the pinnacle toward which all other creatures want to climb. I struggle with this concept now, since it has caused so much harm to the rest of the created order.

Much of the philosophy I appreciated, however. I loved how he weaves together overtly Christian metaphors and stories with ideas of vision quests and finding God in the natural world. He doesn't force people to be Christian, but he leaves the door open. He expects them to find God in their own way, completely in their own bodies, when they're most in contact with the world around them.

I loved hearing Gus's story, but I also enjoyed overhearing (through his experience) the relationship between his parents. Reading it this time, I realized I see it from the perspective of the parents more than the coming-of-age young man. This made me feel old, but also just in the place I'm supposed to be right now, and I was encouraged by the joy and meaning that the two very different parents made with one another as they learned to truly be themselves without fear of the other.

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