Norman Fitzroy Maclean retired from his English Lit teaching duties at the University of Chicago in 1973. He was 71 and had yet to publish a word of fiction.
But after his retirement, his kids encouraged him to write some of the stories he had told them about his childhood.
In 1976, the University of Chicago Press published A River Runs Through It and Other Stories. The title story is an autobiographical novella and one of the finest works from an American author to ever appear in print.
Maclean died in 1990.
In 1992, A River Runs Through It was made into a movie, directed by Robert Redford.
Maclean was homeschooled by his father, a Presbyterian pastor. The lessons were mostly about fly fishing and literature.
A scene from the movie shows how Maclean learned to “cast Presbyterian style” and write concise prose.
We know Norman Maclean learned well the importance of the economy of words.
Spoiler alert: His small masterpiece, A River Runs Through It, ends this way:
Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I stil reach out to them.
Of course, now I am too old to be much of a fisherman, and now of course I usually fish the big waters alone, although some friends think I shouldn’t. Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.
Here’s the casting and writing clip from the movie:
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He’ll be the keynote speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.