Born in Iowa, Maclean grew up in Missoula, Montana. He and his brother were educated at home by their father, a Presbyterian minister. In his youth, Maclean worked for the United States Forest Service--an experience which has found its way into his writing. He taught at Dartmouth after getting a B.A. there, then did graduate work in English at the University of Chicago, where he also taught, receiving his Ph.D. in 1940. In his scholarship, he specialized in the work of Shakespeare and the Romantic poets. Upon his retirement from academia in 1973, he began--at the urging of his son and daughter--to write fiction drawing on his life experiences. He died at the age of 87.
"The characters are obsessed with fly-fishing, and the descriptions of the sport are set in a dramatically realized landscape which develops a mythic dimension as the story proceeds....A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT enables us to engage with a more innocent rural America. However, these stories are far more than the reconstruction of a lost world; the precision and artistry of Norman MacLean's writing raise the book to the level of a small masterpiece."
"Altogether beautiful in the power of its feeling...As beautiful as anything in Thoreau or Hemingway."
"All the reasons why I started to write stories about Montana are not clear to me, but an important one has to be connected with a lifetime of trying to make companion pieces of my life and knowledge of the woods and my love and knowledge of literature and writing."
"All three stories display Maclean's special magic, but the title story...is a masterpiece..., a narrative of great sweep as well as beauty....This is more than stunning fiction: It is a lyric record of a time and of a life, shining with Maclean's special gift for calling the reader's attention to arts of all kinds--the arts that work in nature, in personality, in social intercourse, in fly-fishing....Obviously, I think this is an extraordinary story."
From the Publisher
The narrator and his brother become fascinated with fly fishing and the Big Blackfoot River
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.
The title novella tells the story of a young man in Montana, his errant brother, and their father (a minister like MacLean's own father) who taught his sons fly fishing. The other stories in the collection are "USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky," a coming-of-age tale set in the mountains of Montana, and "Logging and Pimping and 'Your Pal, Jim'," about a logging camp. Written when MacLean was in his 70s, these three vivid autobiographical tales comprise his first work of fiction.