Sunday, February 18, 2018

Deliverance by James Dickey (96 down, 4 to go)

There was a kind of comfort in knowing that we were where no one – no matter what issues were involved in other places – could find us… ~ Ed Gentry


You might call Deliverance a tale of man vs nature, or perhaps man vs man, but truthfully, I think it is man vs himself – the limitations of his own body and mind.


It begins innocently enough, with four men, Lewis, Ed, Drew, and Bobby who set out for a weekend canoe trip down an extremely remote section of the Cahulawassee river in northern Georgia.  They are respectable family men – city men – and looking to get a glimpse of near wilderness before the entire river valley is flooded with the construction of a dam. Only one of the four, Lewis, is fit for this type of trip.

Ed knows Lewis better than the other two. He likes and admires Lewis, but he thinks him a bit fanatic. Lewis is a survivalist, not the bomb-shelter type, but a man who trains his body and mind to overcome. During the drive to the launch site, Ed explains his own more comfortable philosophy:


I am mainly interested in sliding. Do you know what sliding is?

No. You want me to guess?

I’ll tell you. Sliding is living antifriction. Or, no, sliding is living by antifriction. It is finding a modest thing you can do, and then greasing that thing. On both sides. It is grooving with comfort.


Ed, Drew and Bobby, are trusting Lewis to get them through any difficult challenges. But they don't anticipate the life and death struggle against the forces of nature and other forces more sentient and malignant they will face.


Dickey seems to believe that modern men have sublimated their primal instincts and have become what Lewis describes as “lesser men”. Dickey, via Lewis, seems to believe that most men will be unfit to survive if tested.


Oh and by the way, Lewis is badly injured and incapacitated. It is up to the others to find their primal strength – or perish.


It is riveting. Ed, the first-person narrator, describes the wilderness so beautifully, that in spite of the danger, I wished I was there. He describes the charm and mystique of the locals with delicacy, and the urgency of survival crisis with terrifying effect. It is troubling, but also hopeful in a most unusual way. Deliverance is the call of the wild for humanity.


My rating 4 ½ stars



My edition of deliverance, is one of my most prized books: a Franklin Library, leather bound, autographed Edition (not signature facsimile…genuine autograph).



Another excerpt:


What I thought about mainly was that I was in a place where none – or almost none – of my daily ways of living my life would work; there was no habit I could call on. Is this freedom? I wondered. ~ Ed


Film rendition: there is a very good 1972 film, starring John Voight (Ed), Burt Reynolds (Lewis), Ronny Cox (Drew), Ned Beatty (Bobby)…and a small role by Dickey as the local sheriff. It is very true to the book, perfectly cast and portrayed. It was nominated for numerous academy and golden globe awards, though it didn’t win any. Marvelous little clip from the film HERE



  1. This book was one of the biggest surprises for me. I was afraid to read it because of the movie's reputation (I have still never seen it - I only know Dueling Banjos from the radio). But it was an amazing story and so well told.

    1. Yes..."the scene" is less graphic in the book and I just rewatched the movie; it's actually not very graphic in the movie either. You know what's happening, and it's horrible, but it's portrayed about as decently as possible. (still definitely R rated). But back to this novel, yes it is awesome, much more nuanced than the film.

  2. I never saw the movie, but reading your review makes me consider reading the book. I actually like survivalist type stories, which, as you say about this one, usually are man vs himself in the end. Your book is gorgeous--I own nothing like that myself :)

    1. I definitely recommend it then Jane. It's a bit grim at times, but very powerful. Thanks...autographed edition was a Christmas gift this year from Son and Daughter-in-Law.

  3. Back in the day, the movie drove me to the novel, though the movie, which was released when I was high school in 1972, traumatized me. I wasn't the only one. When I went to Michigan State in '74 most of my friends saw that movie as an ordeal too. Maybe that movie traumatized the entire generation of American males born in the mid-Fifties!

    1. Yeah, I think it's a shame the movie is know for the one traumatic scene (the book is a bit more delicate with that part). I thought the move was a superb rendition nonetheless of a very poignant story. Thanks Major.


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