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Deliverance by James Dickey
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Deliverance (1970)

by James Dickey

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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 |
Deliverance
de·liv·er·ance [dih-liv-er-uhns]
noun
: 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 |
Wow. I've been talking about Deliverance to all my friends, who all roll their eyes at me, because I haven't seen the movie.

This was one of the best books I've read this year. The writing is documentary style, but surprisingly lyrical. It's told from a single point of view, and works so well for description, mood, suspense, I absolutely loved it.

Am I the only person in the world who hasn't seen the movie? I'm familiar with the two most talked-about scenes. The banjo scene was beautifully written, and the rape is brutal in its simplicity.

I think that was the best quality of Deliverance - the simplicity. Everything except the country is told in a stripped down, journalistic style, but the river country they travel through, is a fully-realized character on its own. The narrator rambles. He tells what they did in little bits. But he describes what he sees in long panoramas, framed by his designer vision, like a layout for one of his magazine spreads.

I was prepared to be disappointed, having read several books lately that seemed as though they had been written just to be an easy screenplay. This novel demands to be filmed, and you just hope that it gets done by somebody who can do it justice. I suppose I'll have to watch it, just to see if it happened. Wikipedia tells me: "In 2008, Deliverance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.'" One can hope that means they succeeded. ( )
1 vote StaceyHH | Apr 8, 2013 |
“You sure got a pretty mouth, boy.”

James Dickey established himself in the cultural history of America in a way that he probably didn’t intend when he sold the movie rights to his novel [Deliverance]. The tale is about four urban friends who take a canoe trip in the Southern back-country. When one of the city-slickers is assaulted by a local, the men plumb the depths of their souls.

Unfortunately, most folks only remember the images from the movie – hillbillies playing banjoes and rednecks with tobacco stained lips.

Bottom Line: Read the book before dismissing it – it’s a much deeper examination of the dark heart in everyone.

4 bones!!!!! ( )
3 vote blackdogbooks | Mar 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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)
 
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.
 
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.
 
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
To Edward L. King and Albert Braselton, companions
First words
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:19 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"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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