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 Essay Collection Review    

 

 

Chattooga: Descending into the Myth of Deliverance River
by John Lane
University of Georgia Press, 2004
Hardcover, $29.95 (210 pages)
ISBN. 0-8203-2611-9
 
 
 

The publication of James Dickey’s celebrated novel Deliverance in 1970 followed by the release in 1972 of a film adaptation of the book left a lasting imprint on our collective consciousness as Americans. The Deliverance phenomenon ignited an obsession with white water adventures by canoe, raft, and kayak that has yet to subside. Just as significantly, the movie version of Deliverance seared the unlovely image of homosexual rape into our psyche in a scene that has become one of the most widely recognized in all of film. Even further, book and film gave new life to the national pastime of denigrating “poor whites,” a still socially acceptable prejudice that dates back to Ebenezer Cook’s “The Sot-Weed Factor” of 1708.  

Professor and poet John Lane is himself a product of the white water obsession inadvertently spawned by James Dickey, and in his Chattooga, Lane sets out to remythologize the Chattooga River that served as the model for Dickey’s “Cahulawassee” and on which much of the movie was shot. Dickey remarked in an interview that his intention in writing the book was to describe modern man’s great dread—“the fear of being set upon by malicious strangers.” Consequently, river and mountain people serve mostly as a pretext for Dickey’s main concern, and while Lane is aware of this he devotes much of Chattooga to discussing the relationship of novel and film to setting. The book employs a two-fold structure: each chapter focuses on a stage or “section” of the river using a river run or hike to propel the narrative. Simultaneously, Chattooga continuously correlates the author’s personal history on the river to episodes from the book, lore from the filming of the movie, and imaginary reflections on Dickey’s characters’ reactions to the river culture of the twenty first century.  

Lane’s brief geological and social history of the Chattooga is certainly interesting, but this memoir is probably a little too self-regarding to succeed fully in reinvigorating the river myth. Even with persistent references to the rape scene from the movie and images of death from the numerous white water enthusiasts who have drowned on the river in Dickey’s wake, Chattooga remains primarily a sensitive academic’s recollection of the waterway without a spiritual quest or the hard outlines of plot to energize it. While no startling insights bubble to the surface in Chattooga, Lane’s book will fare well with environmentally conscious readers who know the fragility of our “wild” places as developers continue to encroach.  Still other readers will feel Chattooga’s attraction, “paddlers” who, like the author, are drawn to the river’s mystique and are in search of a narrative reflection for their own stories.

 

Vince Brewton
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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