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
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]