Two soul-stirring essays by Philip Connors: One in The Nation (March 2009) and the other Issue 8 of n+1 (Fall 2009). The Nation’s essay is about the life and work of Norman Maclean, author of the classic fly-fishing novella, “A River Runs Through It,” made into a movie directed by Robert Redford. The n+1 essay is about the suicide of Connors’ brother Dan, who shot himself with a semiautomatic rifle. He was 22-years-old.
Connors writes in a seductive tone, offering vulnerable information about himself while presenting engaging biographical information about his subjects. That’s especially true in the n+1 essay, “So Little to Remember,” capturing Connors’ struggle to understand why his brother killed himself. Connor writes, “He made a statement of thundering finality and left no means of answering it.”
These well-written essays evoke the complexity of the individual, a love of life and a deep need to understand it. The Nation essay, “A Tough Flower Girl: On Norman Maclean,” inspires me to re-read “A River Runs Through It,” as well as to check out McClean’s Young Men and Fire, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992. In The Nation, Connors writes:
“It’s not as if Maclean didn’t know his stories were strange. He often said he wrote them in part so the world would know of what artistry men and women were capable in the woods of his youth, before helicopters and chain saws rendered obsolete the ancient skills of packing with mules and felling trees with crosscut saws. Artistry, specifically artistry with one’s hands, was for him among life’s most refined achievements. As he says in the opening pages of “A River Runs Through It,” ‘all good things–trout as well as eternal salvation–come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.’”
n+1′s contributor bio for Connors says he’s at work on a book about his time as a fire lookout. I’ll be on the literary lookout for it.
This post was updated 4.10.11 with edits that tightened the copy, refreshed the hyperlinks and removed one photo. Philip Connors’ book Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout was published this month (April 2011) by HarperCollins.