WC has reviewed and praised David James Duncan’s writing, and especially his first book, The River Why, several times. If Duncan wrote more, he’d be on WC’s list of very favorite authors.
So when Duncan came to Boise for a reading, you can bet WC was in attendance. Duncan did not disappoint.
Duncan treated the 200-plus folks in the audience to some background on getting The River Why published and two new essays, one on an amazing experience in Ogden, Utah with an elevator full of very young Amish (!) ballet students (“a covey of kleenex-colored quail”), and another on his first float with his family down his home stream, the Bitterroot River in western Montana. Both essays were very well written, as you’d expect, and contained the epiphanies that are the signature Duncan’s of writing.
Duncan, if WC may borrow a metaphor, approaches his writing and his readers, and these two essays, as a skilled fly fisherman approaches a stream: quietly, skillfully and without unduly disturbing the reader. He presents the hook wrapped in beautiful prose and gentle humor, and you, the reader, don’t see the message coming until it is firmly set in your soul.
In a wide-ranging question-an-answer session afterwards, Duncan talked about preserving rivers, removing dams, writing, fishing and “that movie.” The last, of course, is the seriously lame movie adaptation of The River Why. Duncan ended up in court with the movie’s producers. The lawsuit was settled, Duncan said, for “about ten NEA grants and a new ceramics studio for my wife.”
The omens are auspicious for more Duncan works. He didn’t write much while his daughters were growing up; now he is well along on a new novel – a “magnum opus” – as well as several collections of essays and short stories. WC can hardly wait.
WC has a first edition of the The River Why, a cherished gift from a friend. It’s now autographed by David James Duncan.
It turns out Duncan has never to been to Alaska. That needs to get fixed. Surely one of Alaska’s conservation organizations could set up a fishing trip and public reading; to WC’s certain knowledge, Duncan has avid fans in the 49th State.
Thanks to David James Duncan and to the Idaho Humanities Forum. Thanks also to the Boise Public Library, whose Read Me Treasure Valley book this year was The River Why.