Sunday, November 25, 2012

Deliverance And Integrity

Spent Thanksgiving with my family in Macomb, Illinois.

We celebrated at a rented lodge, four buildings in the woods built by a demented millionaire during the 1920s. It belongs to the university today, and a previous guest left a copy of James Dickey's Deliverance.

Dickey's great; everything in the story is imagined accurately and in scrupulous detail.

Ed Gentry -- the Jon Voigt character in the movie -- tells the tale. He is a partner in a pre-computer graphic design firm, and comfortably trapped.

Ed's friend Lewis -- the Burt Reynolds character -- manages inherited rental properties. Explaining to Drew, another suburban businessman, why Drew should prefer to share a canoe with Lewis, Ed tells him, "Fine. But you probably ought to know that he can handle a canoe pretty well, and I can't. He's strong as the Devil, too, and he's in shape. I'm not." Drew says, "I'm a-goin' with you, and not Mr. Lewis Medlock. I done seen how he drove these roads he don't know nothing about."

Ed introduces himself in the book's first section. "Before," and early in the second section, "September 14." Several of September 14's pages are a conversation that introduces Lewis. It's Friday morning and Ed and Lewis are in one of two cars, headed into the mountains to canoe a wild river that will soon be dammed for development.

" 'I had an air-raid shelter built,' he said. 'I'll take you down there sometime.' " Deliverance was published in 1970, when bomb shelters were already an anachronism, but Dickey may have been working on the novel for several years, and the shelter doesn't make another appearance. " 'I decided that survival was not in the rivets and the metal, and not in the double-sealed doors, and not in the marbles of Chinese Checkers. It was in me. It came down to the man, and what he could do. The body is the one thing you can't fake; it's just got to be there.' "

They drive on and Lewis tells Ed that he would move to the mountains, hunt and farm, if there were a nuclear war.

" 'Oh, I don't know,' I said. 'If you wanted to, you could go up in the hills and live right now. You could have all those same conditions. You could hunt. You could farm. You could suffer just as much as if they dropped the H-bomb. You could even start a colony, How do you think Carolyn would like that life?'

" 'It's not the same.' Lewis said. 'Don't you see? It would just be eccentric. Survival depends -- well, it depends on having to survive. The kind of life I'm talking about depends on it's being the last chance. The very last of all.'

" 'I hope you don't get it,' I said. 'It's too big a price to pay.'

" 'No price is too big,' Lewis said, and I knew that part of the conversation was over."

There's a piece of foreshadowing later in this conversation. They are talking about the integrity of fitting into your own fantasy. Both men have hunting bows.

" 'There're lots of other kinds of people to be than what you are,' I said.

" 'Sure there are, But this is my kind. It feels right, like when you turn loose the arrow, and you know when you let go that you've done everything right. You know where the arrow is going. There's not any other place that it can go.' "

Two days later, Lewis is lying on a beach at the bottom of the river gorge, with a compound fracture, and Ed has to scale a cliff, stalk a woodsman who has sodomized one canoeist and killed another. He must save his own life, Lewis' and the rape victim's by killing the man with bow and arrow.

At the critical moment, the man realizes he is in Ed's sights, and faces him. Ed's concentration evaporates, and he lets the arrow fly. It hits the man, but Ed falls from the tree he's used as a blind, breaking his bow and putting an arrow through his own side.

The man shoots at him, and Ed hides behind a rock. He watches his victim's agony, wishing death would end it. Ed passes out, and wakes to find the man gone. He follows the trail of blood to the woodsman's corpse, and can't be sure that he's killed the right man.

" ' know when you let go that you've done everything right. You know where the arrow is going. There's not any other place that it can go.' "

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