Sunday, February 11, 2007

On Jim Harrison's "Returning to Earth"

And yes, it's good to see Jim Harrison's Returning to Earth (Grove Press, 2007) make the cover of today's New York Times Book Review. I've been reading Jim's work for years, and it's wonderful that he's getting some well-deserved attention. Writing in the London Sunday Times, Bernard Levin once described Harrison as "a writer with immortality in him." Harrison, a Michigan native, is more well-known--and more highly regarded--in Europe than he is here, probably because so much of what is fawned over in American literary circles originates on the "Dream Coasts," while those of us in the vast middle are seldom thought capable of generating anything more compelling than a seed catalogue.*

Here's a quick read from Returning to Earth, a novel set, for the most part, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This is written in the voice of Donald, the story's half-Finnish, half-Chippewa protagonist whose impending death from Lou Gehrig's Disease is the central event of the novel:

"...Alcohol doesn't run much in my family. My dad said he had trouble when he returned from the Korean War. He stopped drinking because he knew he would lose my mother if he didn't. He had tried to drown himself but changed his mind when he got to the bottom of the lake off the pier. One thing that truly bothered him was cutting open an enemy's stomach to stick his feet in to keep from freezing. You look at Korea on the map and you see it's real far north and they experience a hard winter just like we do in the U.P. Men are always quick to go to war and if it doesn't kill them it kicks the shit out of them. Some of them recover and some don't and who knows why. I knew a fellow pretty well who had a hard time in Vienam and one day he drove his motorcycle off the end of a half-built bridge at a hundred miles an hour. He told his friends he was going to do it and some of them watched. They built a fire and had hot dogs and beer for his last meal and off he went."


*In February, what is more compelling than a seed catalogue?


Blogger Mousie said...

quite interesting what you said ...I do love Jim Harrison...I found your blog while searching about him...In France he is well known and loved...I saw him in Saint-Malo-book festival, (the same team who took part in Missoula's festival)...I love the way he talks about women...Naomi is my favorite character, better than Dalva the daughter...I too try to talk about the books I read in my "villages of blogs"...I've got two one in English, one in French...I'll come back to your place...
see you

4:54 AM  

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