Shooting life’s rapids

Review of ‘If Not For This’ by Pete Fromm.

 

If Not For This
Pete Fromm
240 pages,
softcover: $15.95.
Red Hen Press, 2014.

In Pete Fromm’s new novel, If Not For This, the newlywed narrator, Maddy — a river guide in the Rocky Mountains — wonders how to avoid the “wicked-ass snags” that so often upset marriages. What’s going to keep the union between her and her husband, fellow-guide Dalt, from running aground on “those long, gray, dry gravel bars”?

Unfortunately, their marital raft capsizes early on, when Maddy is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis soon after conceiving their first child. The unmistakable symptoms, increasing in frequency and severity, are rendered in spare but devastating prose. MS “turns the ground liquid, steals your memory, pulls words off your tongue before you can open your mouth”; it ignominiously “swirls your balance into some kind of joke.” Maddy and Dalt’s fledgling outfitting business founders, and they are forced to give up their dream and move into town. Crippling disease — the curse of physical helplessness — seems to strike especially hard at those who wrest joy, meaning and livelihoods from their physical prowess, Fromm suggests. But buoyed by Maddy’s feistiness, the story never turns mawkish or melodramatic; throughout the decades of her decline she despises self-pity, finding strength in Dalt and their children.

In passing, Fromm — a Montanan and former river ranger — spotlights some of adventure tourism’s shadow  -aspects: long days, lack of health -insurance, liability suits and homeless river guides “priced out of the valley we worked so hard bringing people into.” Yet the work beats “swinging a hammer just to live for the days off,” and there are fringe benefits, such as “getting to stare at the Tetons all day, watch the sun gold them every morning, turn them stark and flat through the day, leaving nothing but purpled cutouts against the evening.”

Throughout, Fromm broaches what might be the whitewater professional’s chief existential dilemma, a thought that assails us all: “How could you ever make a move if you knew what was out there waiting for you?”

High Country News Classifieds
  • WYOMING CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    We are hiring a Wyoming Conservation Associate Full time, competitive pay and benefits. Location: Cody, WY (preferred), Jackson, WY, or Lander, WY Visit www.greateryellowstone.org/careers for...
  • SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the nations leading national park advocacy organization, seeks a Regional Director to lead and manage staff for the Southwest Regional...
  • DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
    This newly created position with The Nature Conservancy's Colorado River Program will play a key role in the development and implementation of strategies to achieve...
  • PROGRAM OFFICER, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES, NOVO FOUNDATION
    The Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social transformation...
  • ARMY OF THE DOG
    A new generation of monkey wrenchers hits the Front Range?
  • ANNIE CLARK TANNER FELLOWSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    The Tanner Humanities Center and the Environmental Humanities Program of the University of Utah seek an environmental writer to offer classes in Utahs Environmental Humanities...
  • ALASKA STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society works to protect Wildlands and inspire Americans to care for our public lands. We seek to hire a strategic, experienced leader who...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) seeks an individual to lead this 45-year-old organization as executive director, to carry on ICLs work as Idahos leading voice...
  • IDAHO RIVERFRONT:
    2+ acres, 400+ feet on Snake River, 2800 sf residence, NWF-certified wildlife habitat, excellent hunting, fishing, birdwatching, stargazing, sunsets & panoramic views. In the heart...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS IS EXPANDING - THREE JOB OPENINGS
    Guardians is expanding and looking for a few great people to join us in protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health...
  • SUNNYSIDE MARKET SEEKS NEW PROPRIETOR
    Organic grocery/cafe at Glacier Bay needs a vibrant leader. Love good food, community, and Alaska? Join us!
  • NO INDIVIDUAL HEROES: OURAY MOUNTAIN RESCUE TEAM
    Ouray County, Colorado, a popular tourist destination, has dramatic mountains and amazing winter ice climbing. Challenging terrain and high altitude can push visitors to their...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM COORDINATOR - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Coordinator-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM MANAGER - TAHOE AREA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Manager-Tahoe Area. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • CALIFORNIA PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, SOUTHERN CA
    National conservation organization seeks a regular, full-time California Program Associate-Southern CA. Position works closely with California-based program staff and National Forest Foundation staff to provide...
  • THE BOOK OF BARLEY -
    Collector's Item! The story of barley, the field crop. 50 years of non-fiction research. www.barleybook.com
  • TEMPORARY ASSISTANT EDITOR
    Are you a climber and a writer who is passionate about mountain literature? Do you love searching through old alpine journals for stories of esoteric...
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • RIVER TRIP LEADER & EDUCATOR
    Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a growing nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...