Philip Connors on Norman Maclean: “A lifetime of questions”
About once a year I still reach for my dog-eared copy of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, and it never loses its power or its mystery. No other book I know has more evangelists, as it would have to, being a collection of two novellas and a story published by a university press, and now with beyond a million copies in print. My deep connection with the book—with the leisurely rhythms of the sentences, which matched the rhythms of my childhood spent fishing with my brother—had already blurred the distinction between life and literature, although of course I never suspected the book would one day prove prophetic. But it did twelve years ago, when, just as Norman [Maclean] loses his brother Paul to a violent death, a brother he loved but did not understand and could not help, I lost my own brother, at the age of 22, to a suicide with a semiautomatic rifle.
I’m not sure any sense can be made of his action, and anyway the details are not my concern here. But I do often find myself in the same position as Norman and his father, asking unanswerable questions, searching for something, some bit of redeeming truth to reckon with. There is a scene near the end of the title novella, in which the two of them talk about their son and brother.
“Do you think I could have helped him?” Norman’s father asks.
“Do you think I could have helped him?” Norman answers.
They stand silently, each of them waiting for an answer they know will never come.
“How can a question be answered that asks a lifetime of questions?” Norman wonders.
— from “A Tough Flower Girl: On Norman Maclean” by Philip Connors (The Nation)