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A River Runs Through It


A River Runs Through It - Summary


Title: A River Runs Through It Author: Norman Maclean Genre: Autobiographical Novella

A River Runs Through It is a semi-autobiographical novella by Norman Maclean that explores themes of family, nature, and the complexities of human relationships through the lens of fly fishing.

Main Characters

  • Norman Maclean: The narrator and protagonist, who shares his experiences growing up in Montana.
  • Rev. Maclean: Norman’s father, a Presbyterian minister with a profound love for fly fishing.
  • Paul Maclean: Norman's younger brother, a talented fly fisherman struggling with personal demons.


  1. The Healing Power of Nature: The novella highlights the therapeutic effect of the Montana landscape and fly fishing.
  2. Complex Family Dynamics: It delves into the bond and tensions between Norman and his brother Paul, and their relationship with their father.
  3. The Inescapability of Fate: It reflects on how individuals are often powerless against their fate.

Plot Summary

  • The story is set in early 20th-century Montana, focusing on the Maclean family's life.
  • Norman and Paul are taught fly fishing and life lessons by their father, blending spirituality with the rhythms of nature.
  • As adults, they reunite for a fishing trip, revealing their different paths in life.
  • Norman, the steady, responsible one, contrasts with Paul, who faces gambling and drinking issues.
  • The climax revolves around their final fishing trip, where their skills and brotherly bond are showcased.
  • The novella ends with reflections on loss, memory, and the enduring beauty of nature.


"A River Runs Through It" is more than a story about fishing—it's a meditation on family, love, and the inextricable connection between humans and nature. Maclean's lyrical prose intertwines the art of fly fishing with life’s deeper lessons, presenting a poignant narrative that resonates with simplicity and depth.


Norman Maclean's novella is a profound exploration of the human condition, set against the backdrop of Montana's rivers. It's a testament to the power of storytelling to capture the essence of life’s complexities and the beauty of the natural world.