A River Runs Through It Pages 1-28 Summary & Analysis

Norman MacLean

A River Runs Through It

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A River Runs Through It Pages 1-28 Summary & Analysis

Pages 1 – 28 Summary

The novel opens with Norman explaining the primary ethos of his family: fly fishing is a spiritual exercise. As Norman describes his childhood in the beautiful wilds of western Montana, he defines the spiritual philosophy imparted to him and his younger brother, Paul, by their father, Reverend Maclean, a Scottish-Canadian Presbyterian minister. Younger by three years, Paul achieves success in fly fishing that surpasses both Norman’s and their father’s. Reverend Maclean’s spirituality relies upon the oneness of nature with God’s grace. Accordingly, Norman and Paul associate grace with the act of fly fishing.

Norman begins working for the United States Forest Service when he is fifteen years old. Paul begins gambling at a very young age, and by his early twenties, he is playing in all the big money poker games. He also begins drinking heavily. He works as a reporter for a local Montana newspaper in Helena. Both men consider themselves extremely tough and willing to fight if necessary. Both men believe in the value of getting in the first punch.

Norman describes the closeness of his family, the four of them forming an unbreakable unit. He explains that he got in one fight, and only one, with Paul. It frightened both of them, because their mother was knocked down and injured, when she tried to come between them as they fought. Each blamed the other for hurting her; they never fought again. They are very careful with each other, so that they do not come to a serious disagreement again.

In the summer of 1937, Norman visits Paul in Helena to ask him for a favor: to go fishing with Neal, Jessie’s brother. Jessie is Norman’s wife. Everyone in Jessie’s family is worried about Neal, because of his severe drinking problem. Neal has written to his mother to ask Norman and Paul to go fishing with him. He’s coming home to Montana on vacation. Because they are the pastor’s sons, Jessie’s mother believes that fishing with Norman and Paul will help Neal straighten out his life.

Paul only agrees to fish with Neal, whom both he and…

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