Current Reads

Master of the Novella

Jim Harrison is appreciated everywhere, though apparently not in NYC.

Book Cover Jim Harrison’s screenplays and almost 30 books, including 15 of fiction (in his own reckoning, he is first and foremost a poet, and also a wonderful food commentator) have firmly fixed him as a shining star in the literary constellation—though I am hard put to understand how he is viewed in this, his native country.

For readers familiar with his writing, Harrison’s new trio of novellas, The Farmer’s Daughter (Grove), offers no surprises—except perhaps that Jimbo’s new favorite deprecation, which he wears out, is “nitwit.” The title fiction presents us with a teenaged girl transplanted to Montana from Ohio with her evangelically befogged mother and her engineering-trained, tight-sphinctered father; the girl very much makes her own way even as she encounters a traumatizing assault. In “Brown Dog Redux,” Harrison once again reprises a favorite character, half-breed Brown Dog, in an adventure that has him fleeing U.P. Michigan to Canada to protect his fetal-syndrome-debilitated stepdaughter. The third story, “The Games of Night,” also brings us to familiar territory for Harrison (see Wolf) with the recollections of a young man bitten by a Mexican hummingbird and subjected to over two decades of lustful and violent fits coinciding with the full moon.

If you are not aware of or have not read Harrison, it is possible that you have been influenced by wrongheaded reviews such as the recent one in the supposedly influential New York newspaper. Though evidencing intelligence and precise diction, she manages to not get Harrison right; Harrison’s exuberance and gentle good humor seem lost on her. She doesn’t get the fiction right either, but in literature, as in other things, there is a large space between right and wrong. Interestingly, the same reviewer also seemed to misapprehend Pete Dexter’s recent masterpiece Spooner.

So my advice, obviously, is to pick up anything Jim Harrison has written and see and feel for yourself whether this big-hearted writer suits you.
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