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Deliverance
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66 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
James Dickey's "Deliverance" is a study of how a civilized, peaceful, law-abiding man chooses a "kill or be killed" mentality when he is trapped in a life-or-death situation by an unforeseeable danger. The novel opens with four middle-aged white-collar men from Atlanta planning a weekend canoe trip down a river in northeastern Georgia. Lewis Medlock is the experienced outdoorsman and adventurer of the group; he seeks to conquer the wilderness and boasts of the injuries he's received and hardships he's overcome in his fishing and hunting excursions. Ed Gentry, the narrator, a graphic design consultant by profession, is an avid archer but does not quite share Lewis's love of the outdoors. Accompanying them are the sensible Drew, a sales executive for a soft drink company, and Bobby, indecisive, emasculated, and almost completely out of his element.
The river flows through rocky, mountainous terrain, one of those areas in which all the human inhabitants are presumably related to each other. Some of the locals try to discourage the men from tackling the river with canoes, but Lewis is resolute, and they set off down the river as planned. The trip goes smoothly the first day, but the next day, Ed and Bobby run into trouble -- a terrifying encounter with two murderous, animalistic backwoods goons. Lewis and Drew arrive in time to save Ed's and Bobby's lives, but not without a price. When the four men try to escape down the river, Lewis, the strongest and best hunter among them, breaks his leg in a passage through some vicious rapids. Trapped in a gorge and stalked by a vengeful assailant, the men must rely on Ed to save their lives.
"Deliverance" could be a simple tale of revenge and bravado, but what separates it from generic adventure stories is the sheer descriptive power of Dickey's writing. He evokes the refreshing water spray and stunning scenery of the ride down the river, the violence of crashing against rocks through rapids, the feel of a tense bowstring in the hand of a man who is fighting for his life, and the struggle of Ed's desperate white-knuckled climb up the treacherous cliff face to escape the gorge. "Deliverance" shows that great literature and harrowing adventure are not mutually exclusive.
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74 of 80 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 10, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
No doubt you've seen, and likely enjoyed, "Deliverance", the movie. And in many ways, that terrific film was a faithful rendering of James Dickey's classic. Yet, as with most successful films based on successful novels, the written form allows much more interest, more depth, more nuance. "Deliverance" the novel is so well written that a single sentence can conjure 1,000 frames of film, a paragraph an entire scene. James Dickey is better known for poetry than fiction, and the lyrical quality of his prose is well evident in this journey of four Atlanta businessman down a raging north Georgia river. Told in the first person by Ed Gentry (Jon Voight in the film), "Deliverance" is a gripping adventure story, but also of one humiliation, murder, tragedy, and ultimately a soul searching study of one man's struggle with courage, morality, and ethics. Dickey offers an unapologetic and unflattering portrait of the hill people of northern Georgia, yet without malice or prejudice - simply the necessary backdrop to serve as the physical manifestation from which there can be "deliverance". Fiercely told and every bit as suspenseful as the excellent film, this great classic should be read by all lovers of American fiction.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
Shocking when it was published in 1970, James Dickey's DELIVERANCE has become a classic on par with J.D. Salinger's THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, or Kurt Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5. It is the full, unflinchingly honest story of one man's observations, experiences, travails and---yes---horrors of going out into the natural world for a taste of the wild life. An odyssey for which he had never been even remotely prepared in his life.
It is the story of Ed Gentry, his born-to-be-wild, alpha-male best friend Lewis (we never do find out his last name), and two acquaintances, soft-bodied insurance salesman Bobby Trippe and banjo-playing sales manager Drew Ballinger, as they set out on a three-day whitewater canoe journey. A canoe journey that would bring them much, much more than any of them---including Lewis---had bargained for. One that would bring them face-to-face with the wild side of human nature. One which they might not survive.
Told from Ed's viewpoint, DELIVERANCE is a powerful study in what happens when two extremes meet each other; when one has to play the other's game in order to hope for any chance of survival. When raw masculinity is freely expressed in one moment, then cruelly stripped away in the next. When one's biggest fear was making it through the daily grind, and who now must rely on his own long-atrophied natural instincts to achieve his own needed deliverance. This is a study in suburban routine and complacency meeting the ugly rural face of chaos. This is the story of the weekend these men had when they didn't play golf.
This is a story that is unsuspectingly brutal, not for the squeamish and certainly not for children. Everyone else should experience it. Whether it turns you off or intrigues your senses, one thing's for sure: DELIVERANCE is a novel that will stay with you long after you finish the journey.
MOST RECOMMENDED; AGES 17 & UP
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
This remarkable book was James Dickey's first novel. The story is familiar to everyone who has seen the John Boorman-directed movie for which Dickey wrote the screenplay. I reread this recently after reading it over a decade ago and was stuck by how little action there actually is this the quintessential adventure story. Much of the novel is Ed Gentry's inner monologue. He thinks about his life and his dissatisfaction with his job. The canoe trip of this story is taken at the instigation of Lewis Medlock, the character played in the movie by Burt Reynolds. Ed regards it almost as a chore to be endured in order to please his friend. He goes through the motions without any passion until placed in a kill or be killed life threatening situation. You could say that Ed's ordeal is a rite of manhood. Despite being a man in his late thirties, he has not yet proved his own worth to himself. Like a manchild of a primitive tribe, he is sent out into the wilderness and must survive by his owns wits and courage or die trying.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
I had no clue as to what the movie was about until I rented it three months ago. From poet to novelist to screenwriter must not have been a difficult transition for Dickey, who sharpened and intensified the events of his book into razor-edged sledgehammer blows on the screen.

The book, which I read in a single breathless afternoon, is mixed differently, to use a music-studio term. Dickey leaves more to the imagination, especially in the classic scene of Bobby and Ed's encounter with the "natives." The violence lasts for only half a page, while on screen it seems to last forever. Neither rendering is better than the other; I was stuck (equally and brutally) by Dickey's ability to force the image upon reader and viewer alike in print and live action.

As for the quality of the writing, no one can touch Dickey in this genre. I found myself reading paragraphs repeatedly, not to understand them, but to mine them for all their emotional significance, to make sure I was getting the full effect. With few exceptions, this was a rewarding task.

Above all, Dickey's gift as I see it was his descriptive technique. Ironically, and at the risk of offending people, his writing reminds me of the savagery of the mountain men and the impersonal, deadly, heavily nuanced beauty of the river. He grabs the reader, has his way, and we are not the same after. If you don't mind being treated that way in the abstract, you'll love the book. If not, you won't miss anything. I think I'll go read it again.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
When four "typical" suburban businessmen decide to canoe down a river in the wilderness of northern Georgia, they are unprepared for any of the disasters which await them. Inexperienced as canoeists, overloaded with beer and supplies, and ignorant of both the river and the mountains, they all have romantic visions of meeting some self-imposed test of manhood, of shooting a deer with bow and arrow and feeding themselves, of becoming one with the pristine environment, and of emerging from the experience "fulfilled" as men. Instead, they discover hostile country men, whom they refer to as "rednecks," who prove to be even more treacherous than the sheer faces of the cliffs along the river, the river's rocks and currents, and the dense, almost impenetrable, woods.

Poet James Dickey combines his ability to create vibrant descriptions of the natural world with his equally sensitive awareness of the need for city people to get closer to their roots. While sympathetic and understanding toward these suburbanites and their "mission," he is also careful to show their ignorance and their casual arrogance, both toward the natural elements and toward the mountain dwellers for whom this wilderness represents the whole world. As the journey on the river begins, Dickey's romantic descriptions parallel the buoyant spirits of the canoeists, and as disasters begin to strike, his descriptions become darker, reflecting ominous events ahead.

When two mountain dwellers attack the four suburbanites in scenes which are by now infamous from the film, Dickey's minute descriptions of the most devastating aspects of these events add power to the story--one cannot simply close one's eyes to the worst of the horrors which destroy one canoeist's innocence forever. As main character/narrator Ed Gentry recreates this and succeeding events, the fact that he is a very "ordinary" man, who also reflects the responses of his readers, creates an additional bond of sympathy between the reader and the characters.

The practical and ethical dilemmas the men face at the end of the novel put the conflict between the "civilized" life of the city and the "natural" life of the wild into new perspective, reflecting the long-term effects of this test of "manhood." Appealing for its action, the intensity of its themes, the reality of its descriptions of nature, and the questions raised by its ending, Dickey's novel has become a standard of the man-against-nature genre. n Mary Whipple
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
Mention the word "Deliverance" to many people and they tend to immediately recall the famous movie scene and the comment about "...squeal like a pig". I too approached this book with a similar impression of it, though it was surprisingly ranked at number 42 on top-100 list. Unfortunately, the excellence of Dickey's work is lost in the constant and chronic referencing to that one scene. This story is about man's search for self-identity, self-awareness, and acceptance. The story is told from the perspective of Ed Gentry, one of four men to embark on a whitewater river adventure. Ed's frame of reference on this trip is primarily defined by his athletic friend Lewis. Ed compares himself and the other members of the group to Lewis as he looks to find himself in a bit of a mid-life crisis. Ultimately, Ed finds his validation in his ability to push himself beyond what he previously thought possible. Dickey manages to generate some interesting insight into the human psyche within the context of a plot that is as exciting as anything I've read. The descriptions of the river and the challenges the four men face are well done enough to get you there. The plot has several sections where it almost becomes a page-turner rather than a brooding, introspective classical novel like much of the other selections on the top-100 list. I liked this book because it was an exciting story that was far more deeply written than most adventure novels.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
A classic, I know, but I had never read it (nor seen the film). I had two reasons for doing so now. One was a recent hike with my son into the deep woods along the Chatooga, the wild river on the border between Georgia and South Carolina supposed to be the model for Dickey's Cahulawassee. And the other was reading David Vann's recent novel GOAT MOUNTAIN, which deals with many similar themes.

Go to some of the more populous areas of the river, and you will see numerous Whitewater Adventure outfitters ready to load tourists into rafts and take them with a guide through some of the less extreme rapids. But to reach the river further upstream, you take small roads to smaller roads, perhaps marked by a broken-down gas station such as the one where Dickey's four Atlanta businessmen encounter a banjo-playing albino and mountain men suspicious of city strangers. Then a mile or two of dirt road hardly wider than the car. Then a long trek through the woods to reach the river, smooth-flowing enough between its towering banks, but moving into the empty unknown beyond the next bend.

Dickey is precise in placing these four men, middle executives with middle age just visible on the horizon, family folk, hoping to prove there is more to life than their routine jobs. There is Lewis, the alpha male whose mastery of physical activity is a demonstrable proof of his manhood; the river trip plays to all his strong suits, and is his idea. Ed, the narrator, is a designer in an advertising agency; a natural follower, he will go along with Lewis in almost anything he proposes, and in fact has already come close to his standard in archery. The other two are Drew, an amateur guitarist who works for Coca Cola, and genial overweight Bobby, everybody's idea of the born salesman. None but Lewis have any experience of canoeing or wilderness techniques; it seems clear that he is leading them into something they may not be equipped to handle, and that will test each of them in different ways.

But the principal violence that assails the four is not from the elements but human. Two men appear out of the woods on their second day, and everything changes. It is no longer a test of manhood, but of human nature. Not humanity, for when people are reduced to hunting one another the normal considerations of morality and legality take second place to simply staying alive. It is this fine edge between hunting and killing that most made me think of David Vann. Both authors are superb at bringing the experience of the woods to terrifying life. Dickey does not have Vann's rather tedious passages of philosophy, though I did feel that the detailing of Ed's every thought and movement in the third quarter was excessive. But what I most admire about him (and missed from Vann), was the fact that Dickey sets his book within the context of a life lived in the real world, before and after the weekend in the woods. He does not offer easy answers to impossible moral problems, but he never denies that they matter.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
Incredible book, written with such poetic language that any reader could fall into the novel and miss most of the content. Must read more than once to get everything worth while. I think the one of the most important ideas of Deliverance is that of the American Dream. Lewis' dream was to battle the wilderness. What happens, though, when you have an opportunity to accomplish that dream? What is reality, and how does one react when their dream turns into a nightmare? My favorite picture in the novel, though, is on the theme of man vs. nature. The incredible sight of the river holding Drew up against the rocks, eyes and mouth open, as if displaying him like we display our deer on the den wall. Nature had won, their dream was most certainly flawed, and reality was that they were just men, and even with the advancement of technology, we cannot totally overcome nature.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was skeptical about reading Deliverance, owing largely to the famously disturbing scene from the film. It's on a list that I'm intent on reading, though, and so I decided to tackle it. I'm glad I did.

The premise is well-known. Four men from the city decide to canoe down a wild river that is soon to be dammed up. On their way, they encounter a couple of hillbillies who are intent on murder, and worse. The four men end up in a fight for survival against this evil they've encountered, against the river for which they are unprepared, and against the modern comforts of modern life that have tamed them.

There is so much to appreciate about the novel, and I think it gives fodder to keep on and keep on thinking about. As many note, much of the novels power lays in its descriptive power, both of the natural and the psychological world. The novel is truly well-written, and it's especially impressive that the descriptions of the book are in no way gratuitous (as is too often the case in literary fiction) but are both beautiful and fully interworked into the action of the novel.

The novel also just holds a tremendous narrative power. It's no wonder that Deliverance was turned into such a successful film, because Dickey did not ignore plotting. The action of the novel is very intense and keeps getting more intense, so that I read through the second half of the book just about as quickly as I could to see how it ended. It's all too rare to read a serious novel that is also a fantastic thriller.

Finally, Deliverance gives a lot to think about...about the changing shape of manhood, about the angst experienced by adults who live with little adventure and meaning in their lives, about the powerful undercurrents of violence that run both in nature and in the human psyche. It's well worth multiple reads.
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