Sunday, July 07, 2013


I'm all about audiobooks again, but I want to see how well it sticks before I reenlist in Audible.  So I'm working my way through the backlog of last-ditch efforts to spend my credits before I closed my Audible account lo these many years ago, and this is how I ended up listening to Deliverance, by James Dickey.

Now, what I know about this book is about what you know about it, because it was a movie that is famous for that catchy backwoods guitar theme and the horrifying "squeal like a pig" scene (which I won't link to). But the reader is great, with just the right little Southern accent, and I read on the back cover that the author is best known as a poet.  The first page really calls that out, and shows the best of a poet's strength as a novelist--every word and image is perfectly evocative, and each one is used to a point.  There's no descriptive sprawl here, just lean, lush storytelling.

This is not to say that there are not descriptions and diversions.  The story of four men's canoe trip through the backwoods of I-don't-know-maybe-Tennessee is the core of what's going on here, but it's not the main thrust of the novel.  The main thrust is what it means to be a man in the modern world.

Now here's where things get a bit hairy.  I won't even start with the fact that I'm not a man, because I actually think that is not a weakness here--I am not excluded for not being like the author or the characters.  But the thing that makes it strange is that the book was written in 1970.  There are a lot of things about the world that has changed in the 43 years since this book is written, and a decent number of them are important themes in this book.

You've got the basic definition of masculinity, and its ties to physical pursuits and primal urges.  You've got women, their roles, their images, how they're perceived by a man like our narrator, Ed.  Race hasn't actually come up (yet; I'm only a little way in), but class is a huge deal here.  We're in the backwoods, and that meant something different before the internet.  I think it's easy for a lot of us to forget that there were plenty of people in the US in 1970 without indoor plumbing or electricity.  I'm not saying there aren't places where that's still common today, but the fact is that the world is smaller than it used to be, and the people in our part of it are more homogenized than you even realize.

This is a well-told story tied closely together with a lot of well-told sociology, and while I'm enjoying it, as a modern reader I do find myself faced with an extra layer of interpretation required to interpret the views and observations of the author and characters through a filter of the world they lived in. 

Whatever messages I'm getting or supposed to be getting here, though, it's a real pleasure to read.  The narrator has a lush Southern voice that is matter of fact and lyrical at the same time, like the best Southern writing.  I'm quite glad I thought to snag this before I closed my Audible account!

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