Deliverance – Book Review

Deliverance – Book Review

I have faint memories of watching a movie called Deliverance during my teen years.  I remembered it as a wilderness survival tale starring Burt Reynolds that had one particularly memorable yet unfortunate scene starring Ned Beatty.  Anyone who’s seen the movie will remember that particular scene and if you’ve read the book you can guess which scene I’m describing…I won’t ruin if for those of you who haven’t seen the movie or read the book so you can rest assured that there are no major spoilers in this Deliverance book review.

Deliverance Book ReviewI like survival tales so when I noticed an audiobook version of James Dickey’s novel, Deliverance was available and narrated by one of my favorite actors and narrators, Will Patton I bought it without knowing much more about it.  As it turned out, not only is this book the novel on which the screenplay (also written by James Dickey) was based, but it’s also a feature of many of the ‘Top 100 Novels’ lists including Time Magazine’s ‘All Time (since the magazine’s inception in 1923) 100 Novels.’

Deliverance is a first person narrated story of four middle aged friends who head into the backwoods of Georgia to canoe the fictional and savage Cahulawassee River before it disappears forever beneath the waters of the planned Cahulawassee Reservoir.

A series of misadventures eventually leads to the death of one of the canoeists and a local backwoodsman.  What follows is a struggle for survival.  The survival struggle takes multiple forms…it’s the men against the locals, the men against the river and it also takes place between the men and their own natures.  There’s nothing stereotypical about the way the canoeists react to their situation even as they are held captive to their stereotypical views of the local rednecks…this creates a story that doesn’t follow the expected pattern and is refreshingly original.

The main character and narrator, Ed Gentry a manager of a small graphic arts shop with no particular penchant for woodland survival.  He’s joined by his friend Lewis, a survivalist who owns rental properties as well as their buddies Bobby and Drew.  This is a story of perseverance and the will to survive more than a study in survival techniques, but the psychological aspects of survival and the characters’ reactions to suddenly transitioning from the civilized world to a savage one is fascinating to watch unfold.

What I wasn’t expecting when I selected this book was how beautifully and poetically written the story was.  While it was written nearly a half century ago its story and language are nearly timeless (the only features that date the story are a reference to the Kennedy assassination and frequent descriptions of how men wear their hats.  The language itself has an impressionistic, nonlinear quality that is incredibly descriptive and remarkably easy to follow.  Will Patton’s nuanced performance/narration perfectly complements Dickey’s colorful prose.

If you’re looking for one of the most well written psychological survival stories of all time…look no further.  Now I’m going to go watch the 1972 movie version, Deliverance starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox!

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