So he wrote a book.
He called it Deliverance.
I may be exaggerating a little, but just about the entire world has seen the movie 'Deliverance'; or if they haven't, they know what it is about. But most people have never heard of James Dickey.
My copy is a Pan from its tenth printing in 1976. One of the reviews on the back cover states that it ' ... achieves what it sets out to do ... ' and even the word 'brilliantly' prefixing that snippet doesn't really detract from the quote's air of faint praise. Time called it a ' ... shapely adventure tale.' Shapely? Well, I suppose so. But the word has possibly seen a reduction in its meanings over the last forty years. There is however some modern shapeliness early in the book.
Dickey can't help his background, nor leave it. The novel rolls out like the river it follows, flowing relentlessly down to the end, a disquieting noise in the background punctuated by eerily unlikely metalanguage that nevertheless works. The central character who climbs a cliff to thwart the murderous toothless hillbilly takes from page 141 to 155 to do so, and the progress is not so much described as pschyoanalysed. The book is an experiment in time and scale and a few other dimensions I haven't quite found yet. Yet it's also just a straight tale, if you excuse the 14-page cliff climb. Books like this shoot themselves in the foot. They are too good for their apparent readership (a marketing problem, not a criticism of the popular book audience) but conversely the academics tend to hate them.
If you were anxious for Ed Gentry to get up the cliff, don't hold your breath during the canoe ride.
I waited for the upward revengeful smash of the river, but the nose rode down with an odd softness and into the back-scrolled smashed water at the foot of the rock, quivered straight back through the spine of the canoe into mine and into my brain, where I saw a vision of burning jackstraws or needles, and we were back down on to the bedded river in two almost simultaneous stepdowns.Most writers would have just said 'saw stars' but 'saw a vision of burning jackstraws’? Dickey was a poet, but he had lived experience with an ability to verbalise it locked together like a freight train and its tender at 100 miles an hour. Lucky man. Apparently he was a pain in the neck on the set of the movie, but you would have to be. Dealing with all those fucking art directors.
Deliverance by James Dickey
Hamish Hamilton 1970
Three-word review: Hemingway with commas.