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Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska Hardcover – September 18, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Lou Ureneck is a master craftsman, and in "Backcast" he has meticulously constructed a story that's lasting and splendid to behold. You need not love fishing or the outdoors to enjoy this redemptive and intensely observed journey of self-discovery."--Boston Globe
"A beautiful book ... as clear and bright as an Alaskan snowmelt."
--Portland Oregonian  
" ...gripping from beginning to end."
- Roankoke Times
"A stunning memoir, a marvelous outdoor adventure, a breathtaking travelogue that explores the wilds of Alaska and the intricacies of the human heart."-- Boston Globe

"The Alaskan wilderness leaps to life in its gritty reality—fast-rushing rivers, misty rolling hills, bears "the size of church doors," relentless rainfalls, eddies roiling with fat salmon and char—just as the tenuous terrain between father and son leaps to life too. Anger and hurt thread through this book—but so do taut stretches of beauty, wonder, and redemption in the riches of life in the wild."--Don George, National Geographic Traveler (Book of the Month)

"Backcast" is a compelling read, part true adventure, part commentary on fatherhood and life's twists and turns."--Peter Genovese, Newark Star-Ledger

"I wholly recommend this read, for anyone who thinks of fly fishing, or the outdoors as an indispensable part of their lives, and to anyone who has ever been a father or a son, and had hopes and disappointments for that relationship. This is a well written book, a real book, an honest book, a thoughtful book, and a thoroughly enjoyable read."--Cameron Larsen, Oregon guide and Big Y Fly blog

"This book is a rarity: humble in its beauty, elegant in its reflection."--Anchorage Daily News
"Backcast is a deeply personal and often painful memoir on fatherhood, growing up, the many manifestations of family dysfunction, and the role of the outdoors in one’s life...intriguing and valuable both for its insights and what you might see as its warnings. I applaud Lou Ureneck for finding the courage to write such a book."--Tennessee Valley Angler
"Huckleberry Finn written by Charles Dickens, a story of self-preservation told without bathos. ... There are two adventures here, each in its own wilderness and each with its own measure of indecision, difficulty, disovery and serendipity."--Jim Rousmanier, Keene Sentinel
"With its poetic fineness and almost mathematical detail, fly-fishing has a gestural language which links aficionados on a stream, even in silence. It's that language that Ureneck hoped would help reverse a widening gulf between himself and a teenage son. The hope played out in an eventful fishing trip on Alaska's lonely Kanektok River in 2000. The father-son link was reknit, if not right away, and not necessarily in the way Ureneck imagined. ... More than a fish story, it's an autobiography, and at the center are two broken families."--David Mehegan, The Boston Globe
"Although the fishing-trip memoir verges on literary cliché, this recounting of an Alaskan journey that Ureneck, head of BU’s journalism program, took with his son manages to more than stand out – calling to mind at times that gold standard of fish-and-family portraits, Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It. Exploring in equal parts the Alaskan wilderness and his tricky relationship with his son, Ureneck is not content with mere absolution; instead, he hunts for redemption, and along the way nets a fresh start with his boy."-Geoffrey Gagnon, Boston Magazine
"[A] thoughtful, engaging memoir...an enjoyable, heartfelt narrative."--Kirkus Reviews
“The unflinching terrain of the Alaskan interior has yielded an unflinching memoir, one of the finest meditations on fathers and sons that I’ve ever read. There’s nothing sentimental or sugarcoated here— it’s of a piece with the landscape where it’s set. But there is quiet redemption.”—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
 “This is simply a fabulous book, as deep and true as the Alaskan waters that serve as its backdrop. It is an exciting adventure story. It is a profound story of the heart. It is warm and beautiful and so sweetly honest, a father fighting for his son, to know him, to regain him, in a way that will stay and linger long after the final page is turned.”—Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights
“Think of crossing Tobias Wolff's dysfunctional upbringing in This Boy’s Life with Norman MacLean's metaphysical fly-fishing in A River Runs Through It (with admixtures of E.B. White's classic essay “Once More to the Lake” and Hemingway's “Big Two-Hearted River”— all of it going back more or less to Huck and Jim on the raft) and you get a rough idea of the territory, and of the high standard that Lou Ureneck has set for himself. But Ureneck's memoir has its own entirely distinctive flow of life: turbulent, painful, resilient, intelligent, gropingly moral, beautifully observed.  It's hard to write about fathers and sons — or rather, it is hard for fathers and sons to write about one another.  But Lou Ureneck has done it brilliantly. ”— Lance Morrow, author of The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons
“This is a very rich memoir: part outdoor adventure story, menacing bears and all; part travel book about the Alaskan outback; part fish story (in the most literal and informative sense); and part personal drama about a father re-bonding with his son." -- Justin Kaplan, Winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography

About the Author

LOU URENECK is an outdoorsman, professor and father. In his 20 years at the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, where he rose from reporter to editor, Lou crusaded to protect the state's environment against clear-cutting and commercial over-fishing. He was an editor-in-residence at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and page-one editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is now chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University. His work has been published in The New York Times, Boston Globe and Field & Stream. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312371519
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312371517
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,701,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Kallas on September 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am not an avid fly fisherman like the author of this book, Lou Ureneck, but, I was still riveted by this suspenseful and emotional true story of a father and son fishing trip along the Kanektok river in Alaska. Unforeseen challenges arise as the two navigate their way down the river and through their own damaged relationship. On one level this is an Alaskan fishing adventure complete with menacing bears and harrowing physical perils. On another even more absorbing level, it is the story of a recently divorced father trying to reconcile with his teenage son. The author recalls episodes from his own fatherless childhood and wrestles with his feeling of abandonment. His long search to understand what being a father means takes shape as he reaches out to his own son along the Kanektok. Ureneck is excellent at conjuring up detailed images of the Alaskan wilderness. His enthusiasm for fishing and the outdoors is contagious. A good read, especially for outdoor enthusiasts and parents, especially fathers.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific book for anyone who is a parent, who hearkens to the snap of the line over the water, or who simply admires good writing. Ureneck is all three. It is filled with stunning descriptions of natural beauty and richly detailed characters the you find yourself yearning to know even better. It is also a story of adventure. There are perilous moments at the water's edge and a chilling confrontation with a menacing she-bear. But mostly it is a testament to the persistence of a father's faith.
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Format: Hardcover
I am not a passionate fisherman and do not hunt...but this book hooked me. It is as much an adventure story as a memoir of nature and heart, The clean prose cuts painfully to the bone, describing the unanticipated consequences of ambition, achievement, abandonment, love, betrayal and hubris. The narrative is unique ..... E B White and Henry Beetle Hough overlaid on a contemporary landscape?

I have recommended (or will give this book as gifts) to friends who love New England, Alaska, Martha's Vineyard (just a few paragraph's in it about that beloved island) nature and fishing. I will also gift it to those working to understand identity, community the ravages of broken families and how men(or at least this man) thinks.

I read the tezt in almost one sitting and look forward to the author's next work....not because I want to know more about his life...but because his writing helps me understand my own.
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Format: Hardcover
Lou Ureneck is a terrific writer--not surprising for a seasoned newspaperman--and an astonishingly good storyteller. From the moment the reader joins Ureneck and his teenage son, Adam, in their small tent in the Alaskan wilderness, through the poignant journey back through Ureneck's past and relationships with his own mother, father, and stepfather, the story never flags, delivering the excitement and suspense of a fictional account. The human story is told within the context of some of the most evocative descriptions of the natural world I have ever encountered. Best of all, and at the heart of the book, is the deeply involving search of a divorced father to re-establish the bonds that once had tied him securely to his son. This is simply a must read.
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Format: Hardcover
Backcast moved me with the same power and heart as Angela's Ashes and touched me as did A River Runs Through It. I, like Ureneck, am an outdoors person and a divorced father of adult children. His writing vividly paints the backdrop of his story -- the Alaskan wilderness. You can smell the forest and hear the splashing of the river water. His recollection of his childhood among struggling and troubled adults is wrenching. He turns an unsparing glass on his own parenting and the pain of trying to connect with his adolescent son. The result of these three beautifully woven tales is a book that should be read by all young fathers and that will be appreciated by parents of any age.
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Format: Hardcover
Backcast is a wondrous read from a writer who is a true prose poet. Whether the author is taking you into the wilds of Alaska, snaring a salmon in the Kanektok River, or rediscovering a compelling relationship with his son, the reader is totally captivated by the story. In my opinion, the sheer beauty and honesty of the writing deserve your attention.
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Format: Hardcover
I am a single Father whose son is now grown with a family of his own. As I look back on us growing up with each other the most special times were on an athletic field or on our Father and Son fishing trips. My business selling software takes me all over the United States and a new sale in Louisiana when my son was ten years old changed our lives forever. The owner of the business I sold in Bogalusa was named Charlie and when I was there to make the sale, his high school buddy "Tub" was in the office and they started good-naturedly arguing as to who was the better fisherman. This male ritual of "BUSTING EACH OTHER'S CHOPS" culminated with Tub telling everyone within shouting distance that whenever he found a "hot" fishing hole, Charlie would start casting into his "hole" because he wasn't as good a fisherman as he was. After witnessing with joy and amazement this All-American fishing "shout-down" I said; "If you let me bring my son to Louisiana and take us fishing with you, I'll give you free software training!" And so... the first of what would become eight yearly, Father-Son fishing trip memories of our life were born.

With those fishing adventures lovingly embossed in my heart I bought this book. The "tickler" review of this book centered on a Father and Son fishing trip to Alaska. Unfortunately for the author, (Lou Ureneck) his experience with his son Adam was not so lovingly remembered. Lou had divorced his wife of over twenty years and his son had always seemed to blame him. Things never seemed to be the same between Father and Son since the divorce. Lou saw this trip as a last gasp in rebuilding a loving bond before Adam went to college. At the time of this summer trip to Alaska Lou was 49 and Adam was 18.
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