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
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • ANNUAL FUND MANAGER
    Working closely with the Foundation's leadership, the Annual Fund Manager is responsible for the oversight and management of the Foundation's annual operating fund. This is...
  • DATABASE ADMINISTRATOR
    Looking for someone who loves public land and understands the value and importance of data in reaching shared goals as part of a high-functioning team....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The conservation non-profit Invasive Species Action Network seeks an executive director. We are focused on preventing the human-caused spread of invasive species by promoting voluntary...
  • NEW BOOK: A FEAST OF ECSTATIC VERSE AND IMAGERY
    Dynamic fine art photographer offers use of images to raise funds. Available for use by conservation groups. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com.
  • WANTED: TALENTED WRITER
    Write the introduction to A Feast of Ecstatic Verse and Imagery, a book concerning nature and spirituality. Contact at www.anecstaticgathering.com. Writer who works for conservation/nature...
  • MT STATE DIRECTOR- THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
    The Montana State Director is a member of The Wilderness Society's (TWS) Conservation program team who plays a leading role in advancing the organization's mission...
  • HIGH COUNTRY NEWS EDITORIAL INTERNS
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, is looking for its next cohort of editorial interns....