Book Review: 'The River Swimmer'

Book critic Alan Cheuse reviews Jim Harrison's new collection of novellas, The River Swimmer.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Jim Harrison, the writer best known for his 1979 collection of novellas, "Legends of the Fall" is at it again. His latest book, "The River Swimmer," is a pair of new novellas, and Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: In the title piece, "The River Swimmer," the main character, a young Midwestern guy named Thad swims great lakes and rivers, becomes involved with beautiful, attractive and willing girls. In his outsized and almost cartoon-like philosophical ambition, Thad declares, I just want to feel at home on earth. He has quite some distance to go.

In the other novella that Harrison calls, "The Land of Unlikeness," he comes mighty close to achieving this end, feeling at home on earth. In a fine parade of neatly made, apt and deeply-felt sentences, this novella deepens and enlarges an emotion-charged couple of weeks in the life of Clive. Clive's a Midwestern painter turned critic, for many decades now, a resident of New York City.

Long divorced and an estranged father of a grown daughter now living further west, he's returned to his old rural northern Michigan haunts to keep company with his aging mother, an ardent bird-watcher and churchgoer, while his sister, mom's usual caretaker, travels in Europe. Clive discovers almost immediately that he's wildly underestimated the power of the home place and the Proustian sense of how memories, as he puts it, how memories reside in the landscape and arise when you revisit an area.

Mooning over Laurette, his first girlfriend, long divorced herself now and living nearby in her old family farmhouse with a flirtatious female companion, Clive takes up painting again in order to recreate the grandest erotic encounter of his early manhood. In this way, Clive, eccentric and still gifted after all these years, inches forward towards some new peace with himself and his family.

And, I have to say, it's quite a struggle, no two ways about it. But by the end, you'll feel a little bit closer to home yourself.

CORNISH: Jim Harrison's new book is called "The River Swimmer." Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. His most recent book is also a collection of novellas called "Paradise."

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.