Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska

Lou Ureneck

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

While father and son fishing trips can be the stuff of American legend, they can also turn out to be the stuff of anger, love and self-discovery. In his memoir of a fishing trip through the Alaskan wilderness, Lou Ureneck brings to life the struggle to reclaim the trust of his teenage son, Adam, following his divorce. Along the way, nature transforms from friend into foe, and their struggles are played out against the poignant emotional battle raging between the two as they descend the river headed toward confrontation. On their journey, the two encounter nature's dangers — bears, violent river currents and ruthless, punishing weather — as well as the hurts that exist between them, the reasons for divorce, the absence of a father and the withheld love of a son. Dipping his hand into the river of his own life, Ureneck recounts his own fatherless childhood, the influence of his mother's boyfriend who helped him learn to fish, and the realization that he himself had done the one thing he always promised himself he would not do: He ended his marriage in divorce. Part adventure story, part reconciliation with life's unexpected turns, and part commentary on the healing power of nature, Backcast explores the world of a man confronted by the hard choices divorce can bring to create a moving meditation on fatherhood.

National Outdoor Book Awards - Winner


Chapter 1

Inside the small circle of our tent, I listened to the rain that had blown in from the Bering Sea and the whisper of my son's breathing as he slept beside me. We were camped on a gravel bar that shouldered the Kanektok River...


Praise for Backcast

“This book is a rarity: humble in its beauty, elegant in its reflection.” —Anchorage Daily News

“Huckleberry Finn written by Charles Dickens, a story of self-preservation told without bathos. ... There are two adventures here, each in its own wilderness and each with its own measure of indecision, difficulty, disovery and serendipity.” —Jim Rousmanier, Keene Sentinel

“With its poetic fineness and almost mathematical detail, fly-fishing has a gestural language which links aficionados on a stream, even in silence. It's that language that Ureneck hoped would help reverse a widening gulf between himself and a teenage son. The hope played out in an eventful fishing trip on Alaska's lonely Kanektok River in 2000. The father-son link was reknit, if not right away, and not necessarily in the way Ureneck imagined. ... More than a fish story, it's an autobiography, and at the center are two broken families.” —David Mehegan, The Boston Globe

“Although the fishing-trip memoir verges on literary cliché, this recounting of an Alaskan journey that Ureneck, head of BU's journalism program, took with his son manages to more than stand out – calling to mind at times that gold standard of fish-and-family portraits, Norman MacLean's A River Runs Through It. Exploring in equal parts the Alaskan wilderness and his tricky relationship with his son, Ureneck is not content with mere absolution; instead, he hunts for redemption, and along the way nets a fresh start with his boy.” —Geoffrey Gagnon, Boston Magazine

“[A] thoughtful, engaging enjoyable, heartfelt narrative.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The unflinching terrain of the Alaskan interior has yielded an unflinching memoir, one of the finest meditations on fathers and sons that I've ever read. There's nothing sentimental or sugarcoated here-- it's of a piece with the landscape where it's set. But there is quiet redemption.” —Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

“This is simply a fabulous book, as deep and true as the Alaskan waters that serve as its backdrop. It is an exciting adventure story. It is a profound story of the heart. It is warm and beautiful and so sweetly honest, a father fighting for his son, to know him, to regain him, in a way that will stay and linger long after the final page is turned.” —Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights

“Think of crossing Tobias Wolff's dysfunctional upbringing in This Boy's Life with Norman MacLean's metaphysical fly-fishing in A River Runs Through It (with admixtures of E.B. White's classic essay "Once More to the Lake" and Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River"-- all of it going back more or less to Huck and Jim on the raft) and you get a rough idea of the territory, and of the high standard that Lou Ureneck has set for himself. But Ureneck's memoir has its own entirely distinctive flow of life: turbulent, painful, resilient, intelligent, gropingly moral, beautifully observed. It's hard to write about fathers and sons -- or rather, it is hard for fathers and sons to write about one another. But Lou Ureneck has done it brilliantly. ” —Lance Morrow, author of The Chief: A Memoir of Fathers and Sons

“This is a very rich memoir: part outdoor adventure story, menacing bears and all; part travel book about the Alaskan outback; part fish story (in the most literal and informative sense); and part personal drama about a father re-bonding with his son.” —Justin Kaplan, Winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Lou Ureneck

LOU URENECK is an outdoorsman, professor and father. In his 20 years at the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, where he rose from reporter to editor, Lou crusaded to protect the state's environment against clear-cutting and commercial over-fishing. He was an editor-in-residence at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and page-one editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is now chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University. His work has been published in The New York Times, Boston Globe and Field & Stream. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Lou Ureneck

© Elizabeth Ureneck

From the Publisher

St. Martin's Griffin

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