MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Road movies or road novels often tell the stories of young men. Think Bing Crosby and Bob Hope on film or Jack Kerouac's novel, "On the Road." In a new novel called "The English Major," Jim Harrison takes a queue from an earlier road novel, "Don Quixote," and gives us an older man who has a chance for adventure. Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE: The main character is a sixtyish former English teacher turned Michigan farmer named Cliff who, after being dumped by his wife, a rowdy realtor named Vivian, revs up his old brown Taurus and hits the road. Told in an utterly believable, if somewhat flat-footed first-person voice, the story remains the unflagging revelation of Cliff's attempts to shed his former life by crossing the borders of as many states as he can reach in a year.

It doesn't take long, this is a Jim Harrison novel, of course, for this quixotic Michigander on a quest to hook up with his Sancho Panza. In this modern version of Cervantes' reliable dynamic duo, the sidekick is a horny, middle-aged former student of Cliff's named Marybelle. She gets out of her homemaker's rut by rutting with Cliff in a number of far Midwestern states. From Michigan to California, Cliff makes it his project to toss away pieces of a geographical U.S. puzzle as he crosses the border into each state.

Even as he enjoys the landscape, fishes in good rivers, and wrestles with his own libido and Marybelle's. Maybe he can change his life. Maybe he'll rewrite the U.S. map and give all the states proper Indian names. When he arrives in California, Cliff reaches out to his only child, a gay movie producer living in San Francisco, and puts together the puzzle of his own evolving personality. And very important to old guys, he gets a new car. It's never too early to put aside a great Father's Day gift. Wives and daughters of America, for your reading Papa, this bawdy, questing, utterly charming and Zen-serious novel about being male, 60 and, well, almost alone is the book of the year. Guys, if you can't wait to get going, just plunk down your $24 and follow Cliff's trail.

NORRIS: Jim Harrison's new novel is "The English Major." Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org 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.