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I have returned from vacation in Florida, where I survived a vicious attack by a baby shark (it didn’t break the skin, but the psychological trauma is significant).  I read four books during my week at the beach and will be posting reviews over the next few days.  The first of those books was Deliverance by James Dickey.  This is one of the many cases where a book has been overshadowed by a popular movie.  The movie, starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, is excellent.  The book is better by far.

Four middle-aged men from the city go on a canoeing trip down the wild Cahulawassee River before a new dam backs it up into a lake.  One of the men, Ed, narrates the book and takes the reader through the events of the weekend.  What is supposed to be an invigorating trip into the untamed wilderness to shake the men out of their complacent urban routine turns into a nightmare when Ed and one of the other men, Bobby, are confronted by shotgun wielding hillbillies.  One of the hillbillies rapes Bobby and the other is about to sexually assault Ed when the other two city men arrive.  One of them kills a hillbilly with his bow and arrow and the other pervert flees.  This triggers a sequence of events that includes the death of one of the men, the murder of another man who may or may not have been the other hillbilly, and death-defying confrontations with Mother Nature in the form of the river.

Having seen the movie before, I knew what to expect with the plot of this book.  What I didn’t expect was the incredible use of language by the author.  James Dickey began his literary career as a poet and it shows.  He is a master of the Southern vernacular.  His sentences have a fluidity that perfectly capture the riparian setting.  What really sets this book ahead of the movie is the psychological aspect.  Whereas the movie feels more like a standard action/thriller, the book is much more an exploration of the psychological effect of extreme situations on an average man.  The character of Ed is a wonderfully dynamic character who develops in response to the action in a natural and believable way.  Ed does not seem like an invented man at all.  The book is a quick and engaging read, and I highly recommend it.

The Current Count:

44 Read, 56 To Go

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