Tuesday, 12 April 2011
Four men set off for some white water rafting and a spot of illegal hunting in a 'wild' landscape of hills and a river that is due to be covered by damned water in the near future. (That's water held back by a large concrete edifice and not H2O from Hell).
The journey is planned over steins of beer and main instigator Lewis sells it to the other three as an opportunity to have a 'real' experience before 'the real estate people get hold of it and make it into one of their heavens.'
Lewis is someone who "tries by any means - weight lifting, diet, exercise, self-help manuals from taxidermy to modern art - to hold on to his body and mind and improve them, to rise above time.' The narrator, Ed, has accompanied him through many of these interests and admires him although he can see that he holds a type of death wish. He too seems concerned with the onset of middle age, and unsatisfied with his relatively successful city life and marriage.
The other two characters, Drew and Bobby, are less driven by their fear of time and more diffident about the trip. They could just as easily not have gone and had they had a little more information, they wouldn't.
The journey takes them from suburbia to "the red neck South", the change indicated by "a long tide of patent medicines and religious billboards." And the necks get redder as they head into THE HILLS.
" "Funny thing about up yonder," he said. "The whole thing's different. I mean the whole way of taking life and the terms you take it on..... there may be something important in the hills." ".. there are songs in those hills that collectors have never put on tape."
Soon they are on "the ghost of a road" and civilisation is giving way to the "wild". Just before they enter the river the narrator sees his reflection in the car's rear window. "I was light green, a tall forest man, an explorer, guerilla, hunter. I liked the idea and image, I must say." Our narrator has a desperate wish to have some masculine mastery over nature, over life and death.
Then we are in the river and in the grip of "the feeling I always had at the moment of losing consciousness at night, going towards something unknown that I could not avoid, but from which I would return." We are aware that this trip is one into a fantasy as much as a landscape. Those who have read the book, or seen the film will know that this is a dark fantasy.
When cans of beer are opened, Ed drinks one "in one long, unhurried epical swallow." Modesty is not his strength.
Dickey's poem "The Shark's Parlour" tells of the damage done by a fish out of water, and whether these men are on the water or beside it, they are such fish in the cliched sense. When they stop for the first night the narrator feels some trepidation: "the sliding cold around me full of the presence of night-creatures" "the hair on my shoulders crawled with discomfort".
Suffice to say that reality - "I could feel every pebble through the city rubber of my tennis shoes" - will strike at fantasy and that there are sore tests ahead for the city slickers. Most will remember some from the film version even if they haven't read the book.
At the end I found myself wanting to visit the fates of one character onto another and thought that a follow up novel from the perspective of Bobby would allow for a deconstruction of this book. Perhaps Ed hasn't been telling us the truth.
It don't seem like truth to me anyhow, feller.
"He's lyin'. He's lyin' thu his teeth."