Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean is easily my favorite book of all time. The first time I read it, I immediately began re-reading it. Because it’s simply that powerful.
And fortunately, it probably will never completely fade away, because it has two big things going for it:
1. Since Norman Maclean also wrote A River Runs Through It, which was made into a movie featuring Brad Pitt, he’s got that movie tie-in immortality thing.
2. Plus, Young Men and Fire is simply brilliant.
Nevertheless, I intend to be a one-woman promo crew, proclaiming the glories of this book for all my natural life. (And then, too, when I’m bumbling through the afterlife, pressing free copies into the hands of all my fellow readers.)
Written by Maclean in his final years, Young Men and Fire is an exploration of what happened during the 1949 Montana wildfire that claimed the lives of 12 smokejumpers and 1 ranger—but it’s also a meditation on death by a man who was facing the end of his own life.
Doesn’t that just make you want to read it?
But what I mean is this: Maclean’s experiences as a child growing up in Montana and as a forest fire fighter during his younger years, make the smokejumpers’ deaths very personal to him. It’s as though it could have happened to him when he was a young man. But now, though he was spared their fate, still death pursues him.
So he wrote this book, and he wrote it in plain, clear, stark, yet poetic, language that shines with honesty.
And I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s not devastating. It is.
This single sentence, near the end of the book, made me set down the book so I could suck in some air and blink a whole bunch:
“This is a tragic statement; it was very steep where they died.” (p. 263)
This book has the power to haunt a person.
To read an excerpt of Young Men and Fire, check out the University of Chicago Press site.
And listen to Richard Shindell (as part of the group Cry, Cry, Cry) singing “Cold Missouri Waters,” a song written by James Keelaghan and inspired by Young Men and Fire.
And then read Young Men and Fire.
And join the ranks of the haunted.