Here is a book about an intentional disentanglement from the incessant chatter and buzz of the world. And here is a reader fully ensnared in the cascade of noise and shallow busyness -- reading, in fact, not because I wanted to but because I was on deadline and needed to finish in order to fill a column of white space.
No way to read any book, but an especially egregious way to read a meditative book such as this.
And by "meditative," don't let me put you off by thinking it's some drone of an author spending months going over his navel lint.
It starts out that way, and the sheer heft of the newly released paperback (352 pages) carried no little misgiving that it would be a grind. "The guy's by himself," I thought. There was further offput from the cover blurbs. Who else but writers would say of one another that a work is "searingly honest"? You never hear, for instance, "Kevin said the Memorial Day burgers would be charred lumps. Turns out he was searingly honest."
Happily, Rogue River Journal works like the river in the title. With patience and grace, Daniel lets the flow of his memory carve out an unexpected and lively story of his father, the larger-than-life labor organizer Franz Daniel.
Readers are treated to a compelling perspective on the roots of the AFL-CIO, intimate confrontations with the elder Daniel's flaws, and a resolution between a father and son that works itself out in a remote cabin, tucked away as an inholding on federal forest land.
The story of his father comes out gradually, the way a river works a channel in hard ground. We get a sense of the young John Daniel and the way he dealt, or didn't, with his own life and his father's shadow. And none of this is told with even a hint of whine or self-satisfaction.
Along the way are keen descriptions of inner and outer landscapes. There's an accounting of past dwellers of this rough, jumbled country -- knotty, isolated men for whom murder, it seems, was marked on the calendar.
Daniel's writing is honest and thorough, drawing grunts of recognition - "Huhn!" - and an occasional out-loud laugh from even the most distracted of readers.