Deliverance by James Dickey

Rating: 5 stars

This is a book that I had to read for one of my book clubs and to be honest when I first heard about it, I was hesitant. It just sounded too much like a manly book that I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it. All for nought.

This book grabbed my attention and carried it all the way to the end. I had to actually force myself to stop reading it at one point so I could get some sleep before work.

In short, 4 men decide to get away from their lives and take a weekend trip down an old river before the area gets dammed. It’s in a wooded area in the deep south that is barely traversed. When they suddenly get attacked by mountaineers on the second day, their little trip becomes all about survival.

This book is as fast or as slow as the river on which these men travel. Even before I got to the attack, I found my heart beating around every bend of the river, waiting with bated breath to see what was on the other side.

James Dickey’s use of description creates imagery throughout the novel that transports you as if you are among them.

“…The river spread and slowed and quieted, and hardly feel are any current at all; it was very faint, and when we rested it was as though we were drawn forward by something invisible underneath us, while the water around us stood still. We could hear sound far off in front, but it kept retreating downstream. Each turn opened out only on another stretch of river, gradually unfolding its woods along both banks…”

This passage stood out to me because its so vivid. You can hear the river and see the trees line up along the banks as they come around the bend. I liked how he describes the sound of the river retreating downstream and gives you the image of them chasing it.

Yet what they find is two mountain men who sodomize two of them and it is here where Dickey develops his true characters. The role reversals are very poignant. The guy who is portrayed as the hero in the beginning gets knocked down a few notches and the main character becomes the hero in the end.

Dickey also toys around the theme of death and survival and I guess that is where his title comes into play. Death plays an early role when of the four dies with a gun shot but its by death that the characters are saved in the end. At what point is it OK to take a life? In the end he is delivered from the nightmare by taking life and saving his own and those of his friends. He is also comes into deliverance as a person. He changes and learns the value of things. This is mentioned when he gets home and he observes his wife as she dresses his wounds. He realizes how much he took her for granted and how much more valuable she was.

If there is any criticism to this book its in the end. I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and it never does. I kept waiting for there to be a moral parallel where there is a consequence to what happens but it never comes. While yes the characters are changed or “delivered” I feel like they came out about it to easily. Yet maybe their nightmare was consequence enough.

This book should definitely be read at least once but I wouldn’t be surprised if I pick it up again.

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