A comedian, singer, composer, musician, linguist, actor, author and a favourite of Sean Connery and Billy Connolly's, Norman MacLean is a living legend in the Gaelic world. Based in the Uists in the Outer Hebrides, with side trips to Glasgow, Hamburg and Amsterdam, this dotty adventure embraces frustrated sex, drugs, eightsome reels and a memorable cast of oddball characters: three inept would-be criminals, a demented care-home resident, an ex-communicant of the Free Church of Scotland who moonlights as an enforcer, a pair of Russian weight-lifters who raise ostriches by day and mud-wrestle by night, and a formidable woman lawyer determined to cleanse the island of wrongdoing before HM The Queen arrives on her annual visit. Something akin to a mad Gaelic version of The Sopranos as directed by the Coen Brothers, this novella is a masterclass of understatement, pitch-perfect dialogue and confident narration.
On August 5, 1949, a crew of fifteen of the United States Forest Service's elite airborne firefighters, The Smoke Jumpers, stepped into the sky above a remote forest fire in the Montana wilderness. Two hours after their jump, all but three of these men were dead or mortally burned from a "blowup" -- an explosive, 2,000-degree firestorm 300 feet deep and 200 feet tall -- a deadly explosion of flame and wind rarely encountered and little understood at the time. Only seconds ahead of the approaching firestorm, the foreman, R. Wagner Dodge, throws himself into the ashes of an "escape fire " - and survives as most of his confused men run, their last moments obscured by smoke. The parents of the dead cry murder, charging that the foreman's fire killed their boys. Exactly what happened in Mann Gulch that day has been obscured by years of grief and controversy. Now a master storyteller finally gives the Mann Gulch fire its due as tragedy.
These first deaths among the Forest Service's elite firefighters prompted widespread examination of federal fire policy, of the field of fire science, and of the frailty of young men. For Maclean, who witnessed the fire from the ground in August of 1949, and even then he knew he would one day become a part of its story. It is a story of Montana, of the ways of wildfires, firefighters, and fire scientists, and especially of a crew, young and proud, who "hadn't learned to count the odds and to sense they might owe the universe a tragedy." This tale is also Maclean's own, the story of a writer obsessed by a strange and human horror, unable to let the truth die with these young men, searching for the last - and lasting - word. A canvas on which to tell many stories, including the story of his research into the story itself. And finally Nature's violence colliding with human fallibility.
Haunted by these deaths for forty years, Norman Maclean returned to the scene with two of the survivors and pursues the mysteries that Mann Gulch has kept hidden since 1949. From the words of witnesses, the evidence of history, and the research of fire scientists, Maclean at last assembles the scattered pieces of the Mann Gulch tragedy; in his last work that consumed 14 years of his life, and earned a 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award.
The excruciating detail of this book makes for a sobering reading experience. Maclean -- a former University of Chicago English professor and avid fisherman -- also wrote A River Runs Through It and Other Stories , which is set along the Missouri River, one gulch downstream from Mann Gulch.
"A magnificent drama of writing, a tragedy that pays tribute to the dead and offers rescue to the living.... Maclean's search for the truth, which becomes an exploration of his own mortality, is more compelling even than his journey into the heart of the fire. His description of the conflagration terrifies, but it is his battle with words, his effort to turn the story of the 13 men into tragedy that makes this book a classic."
— from New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, Best Books of 1992
The Men who Perished in the Mann Gulch Fire:
Robert J. Bennett
Eldon E. Diettert
James O. Harrison
William J. Heilman
Phillip R. McVey
David R. Navon
Leonard L. Piper
Stanley J. Reba
Marvin L. Sherman
Joseph B. Sylvia
Henry J. Thol, Jr.
Newton R. Thompson
Silas R. Thompson
Survivors of the Fire:
R. Wagner Dodge, foreman
Walter B. Rumsey
Robert W. Sallee
Just as Norman Maclean writes at the end of "A River Runs through It" that he is "haunted by waters," so have readers been haunted by his novella. A retired English professor who began writing fiction at the age of 70, Maclean produced what is now recognized as one of the classic American stories of the twentieth century. Originally published in 1976, A River Runs through It and Other Stories now celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary, marked by this new edition that includes a foreword by Annie Proulx.
Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the twentieth century. As a young man he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. The two novellas and short story in this collection are based on his own experiences—the experiences of a young man who found that life was only a step from art in its structures and beauty. The beauty he found was in reality, and so he leaves a careful record of what it was like to work in the woods when it was still a world of horse and hand and foot, without power saws, "cats," or four-wheel drives. Populated with drunks, loggers, card sharks, and whores, and set in the small towns and surrounding trout streams and mountains of western Montana, the stories concern themselves with the complexities of fly fishing, logging, fighting forest fires, playing cribbage, and being a husband, a son, and a father.
By turns raunchy, poignant, caustic, and elegiac, these are superb tales which express, in Maclean's own words, "a little of the love I have for the earth as it goes by." A first offering from a 70-year-old writer, the basis of a top-grossing movie, and the first original fiction published by the University of Chicago Press, A River Runs through It and Other Stories has sold more than a million copies. As Proulx writes in her foreword to this new edition, "In 1990 Norman Maclean died in body, but for hundreds of thousands of readers he will live as long as fish swim and books are made."
A comedian, singer, composer, musician, linguist, actor, author and a favourite of Sean Connery and Billy Connolly's, Norman MacLean is a living legend in the Gaelic world. Tricksters takes the reader on a rambunctious journey around Scotland with endearing but oddly-matched couple, Murdo and Rachel. Murdo is a semi-pro thespian struggling with an alcohol problem; Rachel is constantly on the brink of ending their relationship. And there's the truly appalling television director, Sam, whose Machiavellian schemes are aided by a heavy-drinking Presbyterian heretic from Lewis. When all converge in the Tartan Pagoda Hotel, Uist, what could possibly go right? A hilarious page-turner, Tricksters blends the high style of John Lanchester and the low-life snappy dialogue of George V. Higgins—and it's beautifully translated for the Teuchters by the author.
In his eighty-seven years, Norman Maclean played many parts: fisherman, logger, firefighter, scholar, teacher. But it was a role he took up late in life, that of writer, that won him enduring fame and critical acclaim—as well as the devotion of readers worldwide. Though the 1976 collection A River Runs Through It and Other Stories was the only book Maclean published in his lifetime, it was an unexpected success, and the moving family tragedy of the title novella—based largely on Maclean’s memories of his childhood home in Montana—has proved to be one of the most enduring American stories ever written.
The Norman Maclean Reader is a wonderful addition to Maclean’s celebrated oeuvre. Bringing together previously unpublished materials with incidental writings and selections from his more famous works, the Reader will serve as the perfect introduction for readers new to Maclean, while offering longtime fans new insight into his life and career.
In this evocative collection, Maclean as both a writer and a man becomes evident. Perceptive, intimate essays deal with his career as a teacher and a literary scholar, as well as the wealth of family stories for which Maclean is famous. Complete with a generous selection of letters, as well as excerpts from a 1986 interview, The Norman Maclean Reader provides a fully fleshed-out portrait of this much admired author, showing us a writer fully aware of the nuances of his craft, and a man as at home in the academic environment of the University of Chicago as in the quiet mountains of his beloved Montana.
Multifarious and moving, the works collected in The Norman Maclean Reader serve as both a summation and a celebration, giving readers a chance once again to hear one of American literature’s most distinctive voices.