Montana’s Blackfoot River in Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It”

PHOTO CREDIT: Barrydjr. This photo is in the public domain.

“As the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other, I could feel patterns from my own life joining with them. It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books. But I knew a story had begun, perhaps, long ago near the sound of the water. And I sensed that ahead I would meet something that would never erode so there would be a sharp turn, deep circles, a deposit, and quietness”1

In the 1976 autobiographical novella, “A River Runs Through it,” Norman Maclean uses the Blackfoot River as a metaphor for family unity. The story condenses several summer fishing trips into a single summer using fly-fishing as bridge. Maclean’s beautiful and vivid descriptions of the natural landscapes offer a platform to meditate on life. He does the same to examine the Mann Gulch fire of 1949 in the non-fiction book Young Men and Fire (1993).

The Blackfoot River is home to many varieties of trout, which make it a prime destination for fly-fishermen. Fed by snow and springs the Blackfoot begins near Lincoln, Montana and travels west toward Missoula where is merges with the Clark Fork River. The deep cool waters also draw white water rafters to the area. Robert Redford directed a 1992 movie adaptation of the novella that was set on the Blackfoot but filmed elsewhere.

Read more about the Blackfoot River on Wikipedia. Find Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It at a local library, an independent bookstore, or on Amazon.

1 Maclean, Norman. A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1976. 63. Print.

Ryan McKinley is from Honolulu, Hawai`i. He is currently a Master of Fine Arts Candidate in Fiction Writing at Saint Mary’s College of California. Ryan loves a good mystery, listening to the world around him, and writing detective fiction.

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