Before the novel and the film Deliverance appeared in the early 1970s, any outsiders one met along the Chattooga River were likely serious
canoeists or anglers. In later years, untold numbers and kinds of people have felt the draw of the river's torrents, which pour down the
Appalachians along the Georgia-South Carolina border. Because of Deliverance the Chattooga looms enigmatically in our shared
imagination, as iconic as Twain's Mississippi--or maybe Conrad's Congo.
This is John Lane's search for the real Chattooga--for the truths that reside somewhere in the river's rapids, along its shores, or in its travelers' hearts. Lane balances the dark, indifferent mythical river of Deliverance against the Chattooga known to locals and to the outdoors enthusiasts who first mastered its treacherous vortices and hydraulics. Starting at its headwaters, Lane leads us down the river and through its complex history to its current status as a National Wild and Scenic River. Along the way he stops for talks with conservation activists, seventh-generation residents, locals who played parts in the movie, day visitors, and others. Lane weaves into each encounter an abundance of details drawn from his perceptive readings and viewings of Deliverance and his wide-ranging knowledge of the Chattooga watershed. At the end of his run, Lane leaves us still fully possessed by the Chattooga's mystery, yet better informed about its place in his world and ours.
John Lane's writing has been published in American Whitewater, Southern Review, Terra Nova, and Fourth Genre. His books include Waist Deep in Black Water (Georgia), several volumes of poetry, and Weed Time, a gathering of his essays. Lane is an associate professor of English at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
This extended personal narrative by poet and author Lane (Waist Deep in Black Water) focuses on the Chattooga River, which runs along the border of Georgia and South Carolina. The river and the "isolated, rugged mountain landscape" through which it runs were the setting for James Dickey's 1970 novel Deliverance and its 1972 film adaptation, about a group of suburban men whose canoeing trip becomes a face-off with torture and death. Lane thinks that Dickey's tale was "one of the central adventure stories of my generation," which told of a "hero's journey of separation, initiation and return." Having previously explored the river, Lane returns to journey the entire length of it, describing its natural beauty and danger as well as pausing to view it through the prism of Dickey's book. In the best parts, Lane artfully applies his poetic sensibility to the river itself, such as when he describes the results of a heavy rainfall: "the highway swings around swells of native rock, the runoff peels into the Chattooga drainage, burbling through culverts and ping-ponging off stream pebbles weathered from the old Appalachian range." Equally enjoyable, though less moving, are Lane's portraits of local residents and their views about the book and film, which did not paint a flattering picture of the area and its citizens. The weakest parts are those where Lane directly compares the river with aspects of Dickey's book. Lane's own writing and observations are good enough to stand outside of Dickey's considerable shadow. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Title: Chattooga: Descending into the Myth of Deliverance River
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
Date Published: April 2004
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