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Down By The River

stayed in Mississippi a day too long – Dylan

There’s a mouse in the house again, which is as good a place to jump in as any. I’ve been thinking about writing lately, while reading Deliverance for the first time since college. Watched the film again too, and it poses the interesting dilemma of how successful any artist should hope to be. Great movie, but I’ll never be able to read the book without the instant mental image of Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, and Billy Redden. That particular creative realm of possibility is forever gone from James Dickey’s novel and this is directly attributable to his ability to get the job done in the first place. Had he not been so apt with his words they wouldn’t have adapted them to screen. At least Dickey wrote the screenplay, and even nailed a nifty cameo as the small town sheriff at the end of the flick. Scott Fitzgerald never enjoyed either perk, and try reading Gatsby without conjuring Robert Redford or Bruce Dern. But I digress and in fact have been in constant digression for the past few weeks.

All bets are off once the camera starts rolling, and it isn’t entirely unlike putting one’s canoe in a river. You have a general idea of the direction the film will take through the gate, but you never know what you’ll get. Thankfully Deliverance was released in ’72 – decades before the question of whether or not to even use film was relevant. It was even made prior to the invention of faster stocks and camera lenses, making it necessary for Jon Voight’s cliff-scaling sequence to be shot day for night and lending an appropriately surreal air to the frames. It isn’t the technical I’ve been pondering though, but the metaphorical and evolutionary. A guy begins sitting in front of a blank page, creating a story with a river as its central, driving force. A few years later he’s in front of an actual river with a film crew waiting on a director to call for action. If I wanted to get really profound here I’d add something about some more stuff happening, a few more years passing, and him dying, but I won’t.

Deliverance the film makes no mention of its title; it simply comes to embody the production and fits indisputably. But the novel, which is the more impressive work, touches on it. It’s an early morning scene just prior to the canoe trip and the protagonist is home making love to his wife while envisioning the eye of a young model he’s seen during a photo shoot at his suffocating graphic design job:

The girl from the studio threw back her hair and clasped her breast, and in the center of Martha’s heaving and expertly working back, the gold eye shone, not with the practicality of sex, so necessary to its survival, but the promise of it that promised other things, another life, deliverance.

One criteria I have for proclaiming a book exceptional is that it elicits the unconscious thought “I could never write this.” The mouse is either a return visitor from a few months back or a relative – I’m not sure. He scurried out from behind the fridge, I think, as I was eating some cold pasta for Thanksgiving dinner. I had the building exterminator over the first time, but then pulled up the sticky traps he’d set around my house after giving it some more thought. Didn’t seem like a way I’d want to go, and I can put up with the occasional company every sixty days or so.

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