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Deliverance by James Dickey

Deliverance (1970)

by James Dickey

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Rarely can poets make a living writing poetry. Edgar Allan Poe wrote short stories and edited literary magazines, but still lived in poverty. Carl Sandburg wrote a popular three-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln to pay the bills. Many modern poets teach either literature or creative writing classes. James Dickey (1923-1997) wrote one of the best thrillers of the 1970s, "Deliverance."

Earlier Dickey taught composition at Rice and wrote copy for an advertising agency. Of the latter he once said, "I was selling my soul to the devil all day ... And trying to buy it back at night." Dickey later used his experiences in advertising to create the character of Ed Gentry, the narrator of "Deliverance."

Ed, an advertising artist, is one of four city men who decide to canoe down a wild Georgia river before it is dammed and turned into a lake. Except for the macho Lewis, the men lack outdoor skills, although Ed has some experience with a bow. Yet when he has a chance to shoot a deer, he fails to make the kill.

Their canoe trip turns violent when when two backwoodsmen sexually assault Bobby and Ed. The assault is interrupted when Lewis sneaks up and kills one of the men with an arrow, while the other escapes. Drew argues they should report the assault to the authorities, but Lewis convinces the others that would be a mistake. They decide to bury the body and continue down the river.

Later Drew and Lewis fall out of their canoe in the rapids. Lewis breaks his leg and insists Drew was shot. (His body is later found, but even then they can't tell if he was shot or not.) In case there is a sniper on the cliff, Ed climbs it during the night and, at morning light, kills a man with his bow, although injuring himself in the process. Is the dead man one of those who assaulted them or just an innocent hunter? Moral ambiguity fills this powerful story, and it is the one thing, Ed finds, from which there is no deliverance.

I returned to Dickey's novel after an absence of more than 40 years and found its impact just as powerful as it was back in the early 1970s. It really doesn't read like the work of a poet just trying to make a buck. ( )
2 vote hardlyhardy | Sep 2, 2015 |
3.5 It was alright. Slower than I'd expected. There were parts that dragged with too much detail and others that flew too fast and needed more. Overall worth a read but wouldn't make my read over and over again list.
( )
  Lucifey | Jan 10, 2015 |
If you saw the movie ""Deliverance" when it was first released in the mid-1970s, you most likely never forgot it. The movie received national attention for the brutally sensationalized rape scene along with quite a bit of criticism for it’s graphic depiction of the Appalachian hillbillies; scruffy, toothless, uneducated wild men who lived by their own rules… and woe to any outsider who ventured uninvited into their God-forsaken wilderness.

I saw the movie and didn’t have much interest in reliving the horror by reading the book, but since "Deliverance" is rated number 42 on the Modern Library List of greatest novels, I couldn’t resist. Thankfully, the book is much better than the movie. Surely just a gruesome, but more personal with psychological and philosophical elements.

The story is told by Ed Gentry - the tale of a week-end canoe trip. Ed’s good friend Lewis Medlock is an avid outdoorsman and somewhat of a dare-devil with a bucket list of adventurous deeds he wants to experience before he dies. Lewis talks three buddies including Ed into riding the rapids of the Cahulawassee River. Never mind that this is the heart of Appalachia… an uncharted wilderness, parts of which are impossible to reach by road and are controlled by wild and lawless hillbillies.

The result: a week-end in Hell filled with drama, adventure, murder and rape. One of the things that makes this book great is Ed - the narrator. You are living this story through Ed’s eyes (as opposed to viewing the movie as an outsider)... from the vivid descriptions of the beautiful virgin scenery to the heart pounding terror of navigating the treacherous rapids.

As the story begins Ed contemplates that Lewis is going to turn this trip into SOMETHING… “A lesson. A moral. A life principle. A way.” And indeed he did. The conversation in the car on the ride out to the country about having the strength and courage to do whatever it takes in life to survive was prophetic. You can talk about it as often as you like, but none of us know our true capabilities until we are in the throes of a lethal conflict. Ed Genrty discovers the answer to that question about himself on that fateful weekend.

Aside from the physical prowess required to survive this action-packed drama, you also experience the psychological effects of putting the struggle to survive above all else. You experience the minute by minute thoughts of a man looking in the eyes of evil, and into the face of death. The events of Deliverance have been contrasted to Dante’s Inferno - descending into the circle of Hell. Along with Ed, you will contemplate the moral dilemma - to kill or be killed- and ponder the unknown consequences regarding eternal salvation. ( )
  LadyLo | Aug 23, 2014 |
de·liv·er·ance [dih-liv-er-uhns]
: the state of being saved from something dangerous or unpleasant

Deliverance is the deceptively simplistic story of four ordinary men from Atlanta that decide to go on a canoe trip in the Georgia wilderness. The river they plan to traverse is destined to disappear soon because of a new dam that will flood the area. Soon into their trip, they encounter two men who live in the nearby mountains and their weekend wilderness adventure quickly morphs into a struggle for their very survival.

‘The river was blank and mindless with beauty. It was the most glorious thing I have ever seen. But it was not seeing, really. For once it was not just seeing. It was beholding. I beheld the river in its icy pit of brightness, in its far-below sound and indifference, in its large coil and tiny points and flashes of the moon, in its long sinuous form, in its uncomprehending consequence.’

Unlike most who have either read this book or experienced the movie, I went into this story completely blind, oblivious of the horrors to come. Being a fan of southern gothic fiction though, it was essential I read the original classic that helped to generate the genre. Published in 1970, Deliverance was Dickey’s first novel and the one he went on to be most known for. In 1965, he won the National Book Award in Poetry and those poetic abilities shown through the darkness of Deliverance. The surprisingly beautiful poetic quality added a much needed delicacy to this tale so as to make it a much more agreeable read.

“Here we go, out of the sleep of the mild people, into the wild rippling water.”

The river itself, the Cahulawassee River, has much more symbolism than one would initially recognize. The Cahulawassee River is being forced into modern times and will cease to exist in a matter of weeks. These four men are forced into changes as well due to the harsh situations they are involuntary put through. It changes their mindset and state of being and forces them to make choices they never expected to have to make. These changes necessitated the realization that while they felt like ordinary men in comparison to the abominations that they faced, they were more than able to transform similarly all in the name of survival.

Deliverance is a dark and dismal read but is permeated with skillfully beautiful writing that makes it a completely necessary read for any fans of the genre. ( )
  bonniemarjorie | Jun 13, 2014 |
I need a 3 1/2 star rating for this. ( )
  marti.booker | Dec 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
It was an unsettling book that arrived, as if on cue, at an unsettled time. In its primitive violence readers caught echoes of Vietnam, the Sharon Tate murders, even of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In its elegiac lament for a disappearing river, the book chimed along with America’s budding environmental movement.
Dickey's novel gives the impression of calculation, of cunning, the senses are subordinate to the brain. True, many of the moments are actualized but they do not fall together in a convincing whole. The plotting is too obvious; the obvious is the enemy of illusion. And the novel lives, takes its life, from illusion.
added by Shortride | editLos Angeles Times, Robert Kirsch (pay site) (Apr 12, 1970)
In writing "Deliverance," James Dickey obviously made up his mind to tell a story. And on the theory that a story is an entertaining lie, he has produced a double-clutching whopper.
Dickey's prose style is muscular, tactile, pungent, luminous, raw, a marvelous instrument, as in the best of his poems, for evoking the towering presence of trees and rivers, earth and sky, as well as the sinuous movements of men under stress. It falters, and here and there ludicrously, when psychological amplification must accompany physical processes; the characters, though naturalistically drawn, seem fitful and dim, the figures of dream or nightmare.
added by Muscogulus | editKirkus Reviews (Mar 23, 1970)
The story is absorbing, even when you are not quite persuaded Dickey has told the truth. He is effective and he is deft, with the fine hand of an archer. God knows what he might accomplish when he gets used to the form.
added by Muscogulus | editNew York Times Book Review, Evan S. Connell (pay site) (Mar 22, 1970)

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Il existe à la base de la vie humaine, un principe d'insuffisance.
Georges Bataille
The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee,
thou that dwelleth in the clefts of the rock,
whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart,
Who shall bring me down to the ground?
Obadiah, verse 3
To Edward L. King and Albert Braselton, companions
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Before: It unrolled slowly, forced to show its colors, curling and snapping back whenever one of us turned loose. The whole land was very tense until we put our four steins on its corners and laid the river out to run for us through the mountains 150 miles north.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 038531387X, Paperback)

The setting is the Georgia wilderness, where the states most remote white-water river awaits. In the thundering froth of that river, in its echoing stone canyons, four men on a canoe trip discover a freedom and exhilaration beyond compare. And then, in a moment of horror, the adventure turns into a struggle for survival as one man becomes a human hunter who is offered his own harrowing deliverance.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:51 -0400)

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"Four men on a canoe trip discover a freedom and exhilaration beyond compare. And then, in a moment of horror, the adventure turns into a struggle for survival as one man becomes a human hunter who is offered his own harrowing deliverance."--Cover.

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