Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Week 15: Deliverance, by James Dickey

Deliverance is the story of four city men who embark on a camping trip to the backwoods of rural Georgia. It is a book that I have eloquently classified to my friends as "wicked scary". It is told from the perspective of Ed Gentry, a middle-aged commercial artist. His three friends, similarly, are middle-aged, married, and work in offices. One of the men, Lewis, is more athletic and adept in the outdoors. It is Lewis’s idea to get away for a weekend, to rough it and get in touch with nature once more via camping and canoeing. It is a sentiment that many can relate to and a fairly innocuous idea. Once they arrive in the country, however, they quickly find that they are not welcome amongst the locals. They are looked upon as outsiders from the city and their actions are interpreted as condescending. It is perhaps the men’s poor behavior that sets them up to be victims of all that follows. The group becomes wrapped up in a series of horrible events (which, thanks to the successful movie based on this book, have become well-known nuggets of pop culture) that I will not recount here in the spirit of not revealing too much. The alacrity with which the book moves from a simple camping trip to a terrifying disaster is stunning. The reader observes a Lord of the Flies-esque evolution of events that creates a pecking order among the men, designating some as leaders and others as followers. Ed in particular, described as “bald-headed and fat”, undergoes a transformation. His bland, urbane persona is cast aside like a chrysalis and he emerges as a strong, assertive outdoorsman. It’s fascinating to watch his instincts guide him, when at times, he himself is marveling over these newfound instincts. He seems to appreciate this new side of himself, this new outlook on the world, even as his life is on the line. His character serves as a challenge to the societal conventions that we all set up for ourselves, and makes us ask ourselves if there is more to our own personalities that we have yet to realize. That was the essence of Deliverance for me – the concept of unearthing hidden aspects in one’s self and reverting to that primal nature to survive, despite any refined culture that one might hail from. The story is frightening and thrilling, but I can’t help think that the fear I felt while reading was a tiny taste of the thrill Ed must have experienced when fighting for his life. Great book.

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