The River Within: A Review of Moving Water in the Work of John Lane

If you have ever read a John Lane book, whether it be poetry or prose, you would notice a primitive respect and friendship between the author and water. You would notice that just like a river flows through a valley and hill, cutting a lasting indentation into the earth, a very similar metaphoric river is cut throughout John Lane’s stories and poetry.

In Death by Water, found in Waist Deep in Black Water, a collection of essays ranging from Wyoming to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and onto the murky swamps of Florida, Lane gives us a tragic telling of his father’s death. Lane’s father makes several appearances throughout his writing career. Some of the most prominent appearances are in Lane’s series of poems called The Dead Father Poems. However in Death by Water the appearance of Lane’s father sheds more light on the impact of the traumatic death for Lane than any other piece Lane has written. It creates a catalyst for the motion of moving water that Lane writes about and lets the reader discover why it is that water is most appealing and prevalent in Lane’s work.

In Death by Water, Lane retells the first dream he remembers which happens when he is just five years old. Lane writes he is “running down a drainage ditch followed by a rising wall of water ready to overwhelm him.” Ironically, this dream coincides with his father’s death. The story doesn’t stop there. Years later when Lane witnesses a death of a fellow kayaker he has another dream of water flooding a river where he floats in his own kayak. He says that in his dream he knew the river he was paddling on was the river of Hades.

Lane admits that water helps him understand the world as a roaring and chaotic place which is a logical interpretation spawning from years and years of reconciling with his father’s death and other deaths that have coincided with moving water. However, by using water to understand the ‘roaring’ world perhaps it has also taught him to understand water as peaceful and changing – a world of redemption, rather than deterioration.

In Chattooga, another collection of prose by Lane that encompasses stories surrounding the famous Chattooga river known best from James Dickey’s novel, later turned into movie, Deliverance, Lane says in the first paragraph of his first essay in the collection, The Myth of the Chattooga, “There’s a reason that the flows of a river have been used as a metaphor for life and that out of all the landscapes – mountains, oceans, deserts- rivers are what poets and writers return to in literature when describing the way human history cuts across time.”

Lane’s work has transformed the currents and flows of moving water into home. He has used the river as a therapist for death and life and continues to view moving water as that weaving path of understanding the many ebbs and flows of the world around him.

by Sara Roberts

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About Diane Warner

I'm the Librarian for the James Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World at Texas Tech University. That means I do all sorts of things, from arranging manuscripts to writing news releases or curating exhibits for our new collections.
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