A River Runs Through It
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4.18 / 5

"A River Runs Through It" Summary

By Norman Maclean

fiction | 168 pages | Published in NaN

From its first magnificent sentence, "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing," to the last, "I am haunted by waters," "A River Runs Through It" is an American classic.Based on Norman Maclean's childhood experiences, "A River Runs Through It" has established itself as one of the most moving stories of our time; it captivates readers with vivid descriptions of life along Montana's Big Blackfoot River and its near magical blend of fly fishing with the troubling affections of the heart.This handsome edition is designed and illustrated by Barry Moser. There are thirteen two-color wood engravings.Norman Maclean (1902-90), woodsman, scholar, teacher, and storyteller, grew up in the Western Rocky Mountains of Montana and worked for many years in logging camps and for the United States Forestry Service before beginning his academic career. He retired from the University of Chicago in 1973.


Estimated read time: 3 min read

One Sentence Summary

"A River Runs Through It" is a poignant coming-of-age story set in rural Montana, exploring themes of family, nature, and the passage of time.


"A River Runs Through It" is a novella written by Norman Maclean, a semi-autobiographical account of his life growing up in Montana. The book is a poignant and lyrical portrayal of the author's deep connection to nature, the challenges of family dynamics, and the enduring power of love and loss. Through vivid storytelling, Maclean weaves a narrative that captures the beauty of fly fishing, the rugged landscapes of Montana, and the complexities of human relationships.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The story is set in early 20th century Montana, primarily in the town of Missoula and the surrounding wilderness. It revolves around the lives of the Maclean family, focusing on Norman and his younger brother Paul. The brothers share a deep passion for fly fishing, which serves as a metaphor for their relationship and the larger themes of the novella.

Main Events

1Norman introduces the setting and his family dynamics.
2The brothers' love for fly fishing is established.
3The complexities of the Maclean family are explored.
4Paul's rebellious nature and its impact on the family are depicted.
5Norman's reflections on life, love, and loss are shared.

Main Characters

Norman Maclean

Norman is the narrator and protagonist of the novella. He is an introspective and thoughtful individual, deeply influenced by his family, the Montana wilderness, and his passion for fly fishing.

Paul Maclean

Paul is Norman's younger brother, characterized by his charismatic and rebellious nature. He shares Norman's love for fly fishing but struggles with personal demons that ultimately lead to tragic consequences.

Themes and Insights

  • Nature and Wilderness: The novella portrays nature as a place of solace and reflection, providing a sense of spiritual connection and freedom.
  • Family and Relationships: The complexities of familial love and the impact of individual choices on family dynamics are central themes.
  • Life and Loss: The inevitability of change, the fleeting nature of life, and the enduring impact of loss are explored with profound insight.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers will be captivated by Maclean's lyrical prose and his ability to evoke a deep sense of place and emotion. The novella offers a poignant exploration of the human experience, inviting readers to reflect on their own connections to nature, family, and the passage of time.


"A River Runs Through It" is a timeless exploration of love, loss, and the enduring power of nature. Norman Maclean's evocative storytelling and rich character development make this novella a compelling and deeply moving read. Through the lens of the Maclean family's experiences, readers are invited to contemplate their own relationships, connections to the wilderness, and the profound impact of life's inevitable changes.

A River Runs Through It FAQ

  1. What is 'A River Runs Through It' about?

    A River Runs Through It is a semi-autobiographical novella that tells the story of two brothers, their love for fly fishing, and their complex relationship with each other and their family.

  2. Who is the author of 'A River Runs Through It'?

    The author of 'A River Runs Through It' is Norman Maclean, an American author and scholar.

  3. Is 'A River Runs Through It' based on a true story?

    Yes, 'A River Runs Through It' is semi-autobiographical, drawing from the author's own experiences and relationships.

  4. What is the setting of 'A River Runs Through It'?

    The story is set in the early 20th century in Montana, and nature, particularly the Big Blackfoot River, plays a significant role in the narrative.

  5. What themes are explored in 'A River Runs Through It'?

    Themes of family dynamics, nature, the passage of time, and the complexities of brotherhood are explored in 'A River Runs Through It'.