Monday, April 30, 2007

Deliverance by James Dickey

This book is completely terrifying. Many are probably familiar with it from the film version: A quartet of suburbian clock-punchers go on an impulsive canoing trip down a secluded north Georgia river, and along the way two are molested by a pair of rednecks. This horrible act causes a struggle for vengeance and survival that the survivors (I won't say how many) carry with them for the rest of their lives.

The movie is well known--though, sadly, it has become a one-word joke about sodomy in our popular culture--but you may not be aware that the book is equally highly regarded, appearing on Time's 100 Greatest Books Since 1923 list. The author, James Dickey, was best known as a poet before the publication of Deliverance, and accordingly he gives the book a sense of hideous wonder, preventing it from becoming the plain sort of thriller the topic might suggest.

Deliverance is a book about primitivism, the way it remains in us like a reservoir waiting to be tapped. At the end of the book, the dead lie at the bottom of the river which is about to be dammed into a lake, suggesting that the primitive part of all of us that remains from our ancestors lies dormant beneath what society makes out of us. What it brings out in Ed Gentry, the main character, is both amazing and awful: the power to survive as well as the power to kill. Perhaps the most frightening part occurs when Ed waits in a tree with a bow and arrow for one of the molestors, who plans on returning and shooting the suburbanites, and forces his mind and the molestor's to merge so that he might anticipate where and when he will return. Ed is forced to recognize that what the rednecks do to them, their violence and perversion, is not something that they possess alone but something that dwells within himself, and is necessary to survive in this backwoods Southern jungle.

This brings my total from the Times List to 22. I'd like to read them all, but I don't think I could sit through Infinite Jest.

5 comments:

Carlton said...

Your reviews kick Brent's reviews asses.
I am halfway through a Goosebumps book, so suck it!

Nathan said...

Is this really only the first review on this website with a "sodomy" tag? Come on, we can do better than that.

Christopher said...

It's cool, as I understand Brent is most of the way through Anal Avengers 4.

Nathan said...

It's not nearly as good as the first three.

Camlin said...

Good words.