Rogue River Reprieve
Reviewed by Glen Love
Northwesterner Paul Hoobyar’s new novel, Rogue River Reprieve, takes a fresh look at what is an old and apparently insoluble question: What shall be the fate of the public lands and waters of the American West? Shall they be the terrain of industrial exploitation or the largely wild garden of natural fulfillment for what is here now and in the future? The word “reprieve,” the postponement of punishment, warns us as readers that the Rogue River is already under the threat of despoliation from acid leach mining backed by national and international industrial forces in collusion with crooked locals, ready to join the outside profiteers. Hoobyar imparts his choice for the Rogue’s future in his epigraph to the novel, a loving claim from an old character, Water Rat, in an old book, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame: “There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” It is a big claim, but Lordy what Hoobyar does with it. More than any river writer I know, he captures the emotional rush of running difficult rivers in a drift boat—preferably a wooden one but OK for aluminum as well—by the strictest attention to the rower’s blade work with a pair of oars and the accompanying dynamics of water, as well as the judgment, nerve, and luck that attend the sport. Author Hoobyar gets it all in and he gets it right. And in his concentration on oarsmanship and the beauty of the banks and country that reaches beyond the tips of his oars, he gives a new touch of nobility to messing about in boats.
Glen Love is editor of Fishing the Northwest: An Angler’s Reader, OSU Press, 2000. Love is a retired University of Oregon Professor of English, Emeritus, who rowed for four years on the University of Washington’s crew team in the early 1950’s.