Jim’s sense of humor is one of a kind. While I was lying in the couch, battling fever, I suddenly heard the TV anchor announcing, at the end of his news report, the sudden death of an American literature main figure : Jim Harrison. WTF? I couldn’t believe. And I refuse to do so. Because, denying it is the easiest way to deal with it. So, if you ask me, Jim is quietly sitting in his fishing boat, admiring the sun rising over the lake and doesn’t give a damn about the rest of us.
I was a teenager when my Mom lent me his most famous novel Dalva. It was love at first sight. I kept thinking about it. He was the first novelist who talked of men and nature with the same intensity. Trust me or not, but I had planned to read Dalva again (next month actually). Today, I’ve just found about that the book is the number 1 bestsellers on Amazon. Death is a great seller. But I’m fine with it, first because his first books have not been published again in many years and deserve to be shared with new generation of readers. They have the right to ride with his most famous characters on the wild roads of America.
Dalva was not the first novel of Jim, he’s been writing all over his life : novels, novellas and poems. The man even wrote movie scripts for Hollywood. Not surprising when you know that Jim saw life in widescreen ! He’s given so much to his readers, offering the greatest characters and the most amazing landscapes, the organic America. His characters were deeply humans. So humans that some readers didn’t like to read about their sex issues, their impotence, their stomach ache or getting old. His characters were faillible. Jim’s grown old, the scoundrel has told everything it about it in his novels : the time flying by, the failed marriages, the lost illusions, the time chasing, the youth fading away but one thing remained intact : the power o Mother Nature that still amazes you even when you stop on the side of the road to take a leak.
Jim and I are not closed in age but when I read The English Major and met Cliff, that guy in his sixties, whose wife has let him down after almost 30 years, I enjoyed so much hopping into his car and hitting the road with him. Cliff has decided to embark on a journey and to rename each State with a new name. And there again, I am, right in the middle of nowhere, staring at the little flowers, listening to the sound of the river, the birds singing, and learning about the First Nations. Cliff is not only a version of Jim, he’s you and me, and everyone else. Jim is definitely one of the best storyteller I’ve ever met.
For years, we were told that Jim was just the most brilliant nature writer – which is true. Jim became the man of the woods once Legends of the Fall, one of his novellas, was adapted to the big screen. Mother Nature has found one of its most eloquent spokesperson in him. But what strikes me is how much Jim Harrison loved his characters, loved people. Human beings. And how much we share a likeness with them. To Jim, nature and the human being are one. No need to take them apart.
“His own life suddenly seemed repellently formal. Whom did he know or what did he know and whom did he love? Sitting on the stump under the burden of his father’s death and even the mortality inherent in the dying, wildly colored canopy of leaves, he somehow understood that life was only what one did every day…. Nothing was like anything else, including himself, and everything was changing all of the time. He knew he couldn’t perceive the change because he was changing too, along with everything else”.
Now, for those who have never read Jim Harrison’s work, I wouldn’t encourage them to start with the latest ones. I know because the people who’ve read The Big Seven were pretty much bored and puzzled by it. Jim Harrison’s style and obsessions have evolved with time. His signature is still here, of course, but Jim wrote the way he lived. He talks about growing old, impotence, alcohol or regrets. Hard to understand for a reader in his or her twenties. Also, Harrison became famous mainly after Dalva was published, and his first novels were discovered later on. Or, the Jim of A good day to die was not the same one as the Jim who wrote Dalva and later the Jim who published The English Major. Because Jim wrote mostly about his life, what he knew. That’s what I liked about him so much : he wrote the way he lived.
He loved fine wines, fishing and hunting. He enjoyed his life in the woods, far away from the city. If Heaven exists, it probably looks like one of the lakes in Michigan, with a small cabin, an old rusty hunting rifle and a fishing rod, a notebook, a pen and a barbecue.
I’m still mad at him for leaving us so soon, he was in my bucket list. So, as far, as giving you reading advise, I’d say : read them all ! Of course, one will tell you that you need to focus on the best ones, but nobody agrees about which ones are the best. Of course, I can’t deny that Legends of the Fall are probably one of the best novellas ever written or that Dalva will let you see a glimpse of the genius that man was when it came to talk about men and nature. A good day to die will let you see the younger version of Jim. But, since I’ve decided to read a few of his writings again, I will add the titles at the end of this chronicle. Because each one of his writings deserves a real deal.
Okay, let’s be honest : his death really sucks. What a dirty trick the guy just played on us ! I guess that Jim has chosen to go fishing somewhere noone will ever be able to find him or mess with him 😉 I feel better when I see all the feedback about his death and how much he’ll be missed by so many people around the world, as if everyone shared a personal story with him.
A while ago, there was a game where you could win a book if you’d reply to that question “whose love letter would you enjoy getting it from?” – I didn’t think twice and wrote the name of Jim. Yes, that old man, who enjoyed the good food, the fine wines and could talk for hours about life’s beauty and magic. By the way, I won the game.
So as I said before, this a list of the books I’m planning to read and write about on the Mouching :
- A good day to die (1973)
- Dalva (1988)
- Legends of the Fall (novellas)
- Farmer (1976)
- The Farmer’s daughter (novellas) (2010)
- The road home (1998)
The complete biography of Jim Harrison is available on Wikipedia.
At last, a poem from his collection of poetry After Ikkyu and other poems (1996)
Not here and now but now and here.
If you don’t know the difference
is a matter of life and death, get down
naked on bare knees in the snow
and study the ticking of your watch.