book rec

Aug. 17th, 2004 02:16 pm
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A book I've been re-reading recently - Young Men & Fire by Norman Maclean. It's nominally about the Mann Gulch fire of 1949, where thirteen smokejumpers died. It talks about the history of the smokejumpers, the geography and geology of the gulch, the science of fire and firefighting, the author's own personal experiences with firefighting, approaching the tragedy from all different angles. There are some rough parts, but the language is almost mystically beautiful, and it's taught me as much about the art of writing, of searching out a story and its meaning, as any book I can think of.

There are pieces of premonitions of tragedy floating around, but they do not add up yet to your tragedy. You can see tragedy coming from a considerable distance when you are older, but when you are young tragedy does not pertain to you and certainly never catches up to you. There are separate stabs of fear, of pity, of self-pity, but to a degree in separate parts of the body. Then all of a sudden they merge into one sense, the encompassing sense of inevitability. It is everywhere on you as it becomes the essential whole of all that is preparing to be your tragedy. It becomes the cause of your mounting fear, your self-pity, telling you that, no matter what, it does no good to be proud and good and young. Then, almost at the end, it makes possible the triumph that can come at the end of tragedy for the young who are select and elite - the triumph of retaining your pride when you know you have lost for good before you have had a chance in life to make good, except for this.
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