Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren
categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence
As readers we all have our favorites–authors whose work seems to speak directly to us and resonate in our very bones. For me Jim Harrison is one of those writers and now we are graced with a new collection of novellas, The River Swimmer, that further enhances Harrison’s legacy as a writer with “immortality in him.”
The River Swimmer consists of two novellas, a literary form that Harrison has almost single-handedly resuscitated since the publication of Legends of the Fall in 1979, and it renews Harrison’s obsessions with the themes of food, lust/love, art/literature and a connection with and appreciation of the natural world. The opening story, “The Land of Unlikeness” tells the story of an academic returning home to the familiar environs (for Harrison fans) of the upper peninsula of Michigan to care for his ailing mother. Clive’s Ivy League life in academia has been a success but he has always regretted his early failure as a painter. The journey home becomes an opportunity to reassess his life and eventually to send away for painting supplies and begin anew. For as Clive’s sister reminds him, “No one gets over anything.”
The title story recounts the fantastical adventures of a young man with an obsession for water. Among his exploits is an epic swim across Lake Michigan and an encounter with otherworldly creatures. Though uncharacteristically sloppy, the story reaffirms Harrison’s insistence that we pay heed to the physical world surrounding us or suffer the inevitable consequences of our ignorance.
In his wonderful review of The River Swimmer in the NY Times, Dwight Garner offers the following counsel as found in “The Land of Unlikeness”:
1. get outside as often as possible, ideally right now.
2. take your meals seriously.
3. keep your libido stoked.
4. have a sense of humor about yourself.
5. read good books.
6. scorn snobs and greedheads.
7. live the examined life.
Sorta says it all, wouldn’t you agree? Happy reading.
[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”). He keeps a bird named Ruby, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College.]