Jim Harrison has been one of America’s most revered and most prolific writers over the last couple of decades. In this his most recent book Harrison provides two short novellas that will please fans of his work and perhaps bring him some new fans.
The first story in the book is called The Land of Unlikeness. In this story we meet a sixty year old gentleman named Clive who, finding himself with an imposed leave of absence from his work as an art history professor in New York City, travels home to spend some time with his octogenarian Mother back in Michigan. In the course of his visit Clive will face some old ghosts; memories of his youth, time spent with his father, and unexpectedly, one ghost who visits at the same time as he, his high school crush Laurette.
For those who do not like to think of their sixty year old protagnoists as having a non viagra induced sex drive Harrison’s story can make you uncomfortable. Once home, with time on his hands Clive decides to return to his first love, painting. In his early forties Clive had decided to give up painting and become an academic, on this trip with visions of painting through the beveled windows of his childhood bedroom he takes up the brush again.
In just one hundred fifteen pages we feel that we know Clive quite well and one is glad to see him reconcile himself to the people in his past. Harrison writes of nature like he would prefer a field of high grass to a group of people and perhaps he would. Harrison is also a published poet and it shows in his writing.
In the second story, the even shorter The River Swimmer, we meet a young man still in high school but restless to move on. The book begins in jarring fashion when this young man is caught in a misunderstanding between a female friend of his and her angry father. From there we see that this boy might well have gills, he loves to swim, and travels distances that a normal man would consider foolhardy. This story takes a bit of a turn to the supernatural as we find that our hero is not always alone in the river. Not being a big fan of the mystical, this diminished this story for me a bit as did the strange rapidity of the relationships that our boy, Thad, develops. Still as we all know when your seventeen sometimes it does seem that a person just met has been known your whole life and Harrison certainly remembers that in his writing.
The joy of reading an author like Harrison for the first time is that if you find yourself enjoying his writing you could spend months reading his old books. I, for one, plan to take some more journeys with Mr. Harrison and, while I preferred the first story to the title story, they both are well written and worth the short time it will take to read them.