The Same River Twice
THE SAME RIVER TWICE explores the problems of defining manhood in America in the late twentieth century. Chris Offutt notes in several contexts that, much as he might like it to be different, human beings depend upon imagination to define their individual and gender roles, and if the imagination falters, people are unhappy as individuals and usually fail to some degree in one of their primary roles, parenting. His and his wife’s mothers were unhappy in their traditional roles, and Offutt comes from a long line of bad fathers, though they have improved over time.
Offutt approaches this problem from two directions at once, weaving together in alternating short sections his wonderfully entertaining account of wandering in America with his meditations on the banks of the Iowa River during the year or so preceding the birth of his first son, Sam. His often moving and often hilarious adventures on the road teach him repeatedly that traditional definitions of masculinity became obsolete with the end of the frontier, and trying to realize them now leads to solitude, emptiness, death. His thinking about his relationship with his wife, Rita, about her pregnancy and his approaching fatherhood, teaches him the importance of a flexible imagination in making himself, being a writer, living and loving. The meditations often become poetry when he uses his experiences of nature as symbols to help grasp elusive feelings about impending fatherhood.
Offutt’s sense of humor and ear for dialogue are impressive in both strands of narrative, confirming the strengths of his much-praised collection of short stories, KENTUCKY STRAIGHT (1992).
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. LXXXIX, December 15, 1992, p.709.
The Christian Science Monitor. February 16, 1993, p. 11.
Houston Post. February 7, 1993, p. C4.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 24, 1993, p.6.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, January 31, 1993, p.10.
The New Yorker. LXIX, April 12, 1993, p.121.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, March 7, 1993, p.2.