by James Dickey

Be honest. You already hear the strains of Dueling Banjos in the distance, don't you? Exactly. I feel like everybody already knows the story of Deliverance, be it from the book, the film, or its reputation alone. This isn't all bad. In the case of Classic Bitch, having seen the movie a couple or few times in the distant past, knowing what's coming affords new perspective. Any mild dissatisfaction at foreknowledge of the plot is tempered by discovery of a ton of foreshadowing in the writing of James Dickey! In other words, if you know what's coming, you can enjoy the pleasure of keeping an eye out for the ways in which the author telegraphs that he too knows what's coming.

If you promise me that you'll read this book (especially if you never have) and look for foreshadowing, we can put the issue of adumbration aside and move on to other characteristics of Deliverance. James Dickey serves up a book that is a piece of Southern literature through & through. His writing style reminds me a lot of that of some other authors we've come across on the list thus far: specifically Walker Percy (in a book I didn't like much at all), and William Faulkner (in a book I enjoyed quite a lot)! I also feel compelled to point out that one of the characters in Deliverance, Lewis, reminds me a lot of the rendering of Tom Sawyer in the pages of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn...meaning that Dickey is also keeping great company with perhaps the granddaddy of Southern lit himself!

I'll stick with that point a bit longer to draw your attention to the fact that in that particular Twain book, a river also features prominently! Twain's Tom maddeningly initiates an unnecessarily elaborate plan to free a slave whom he secretly knows to already be free, thereby making the "mission" irrelevant to begin with. He & Huck dig Jim to freedom with case-knives, painfully & slowly—instead of simply making quick use of the modern tools of pick & shovel—sheerly for the romance of the thing! Dickey's Lewis is the romantic, irritating, reckless force who attractively convinces his more sedate peers to shoot a river that's soon to be dammed, just for the sake of doing it! The narrator chides Lewis for "forever getting himself and other people into situations like this." He also asks Lewis a rhetorical question probably very much on the mind of the other two men along on the rugged canoe trip: "I am a get-through-the-day man. I don't think I was ever anything else. I am mainly interested in sliding. Do you know what sliding is? I'll tell you. Sliding is living antifriction. Or, no, sliding is living by antifriction. It is finding a modest thing you can do, and then greasing that thing. On both sides. It is grooving with comfort." Of course it is the masculine allure of Lewis' romantic notions that prevails, and we end up with Deliverance, which is a tale of anything but men finding a modest thing they can do & grooving with comfort! Seduced by Tom's way of doing things, Mark Twain's boys end up with horribly blistered palms. Seduced by Lewis' way of doing things, James Dickey's men end up with a rawer deal yet. Not that this is a bad thing. It's what drives the plot, at minimum, and what drives the men—especially Ed, the narrator here—to learn what they are made of (or not). And wasn't that Lewis' point to begin with? So the trip is a "success"! Not despite rape & murder, but because of it.

While largely well written, the thing that makes this book shine is the story (less so: the telling). Dickey's prose is a little uneven in spots and generally stronger in the first four fifths of the book than in the last chapter, which is called "After." This may be because that last chapter portrays the men trying to get their stories straight under scrutiny of law enforcement. Their stories are thin, so the writing sounds thin. "After" is also far more dialog driven than preceding chapters; the writing shifts palpably at the end.

If you've only ever seen the film, & have never read the book, I urge you to do so. It's short & a total page turner—you'll be done in no time & wish there were more. The book also sheds light on parts of the movie that in the past I had found murky. And there is intentional murkiness in the plot, to be sure. Classic Bitch recommends pairing the novel with the film & seeing what you get. That's what I just did with Bill Morancy, and you can read his review of the film Deliverance at his movie blog, quo vadis?, for: Monday, April 30, 2012. While we watched, Bill pointed out James Dickey in the movie in a cameo role!