Tuesday, March 29, 2016
A Good Day to Die
Jim Harrison may be the best writer no one ever heard of. Except for his novella, Legends of the Fall, which was made into a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt, it is doubtful few would know him at all. His first full length novel Wolf was laughably turned into a werewolf movie starring Jack Nicholson, as I guess a young man trying to find himself in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan didn't suit Hollywood.
Legends was reportedly based on actual journals, but it struck me as a thinly veiled portrait of Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt and his three sons, the youngest similarly dying in WWI due to poor vision. It was easily adaptable into a film, but as a novel was rather weak. Harrison improved considerably in his later efforts, notably Wolf and Sundog, both of which I enjoyed very much.
He kind of disappeared from the scene after the theatrical versions of his novels, content it seems to write poetry at his reclusive Arizona ranch. Always an outdoorman, he preferred to commute with nature rather than his fellow man, but Iain Sinclair tracked him down in American Smoke, as Harrison once ran with the Beats.
His style was more in the mold of Wallace Stegner, a hero to him, whose work he would often quote. Harrison's West was pretty broad, he set novels in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Nebraska, Montana and other locations. His men were strong without being self-serving. There was usually a muse, but she would be strong-willed too, as was the case in Sundog. In Dalva, he devoted his novel to a half-Indian woman, with very much the same strength as his male protagonists.
In all, he had some 30 novels to his credit but poetry remained his passion. Philip Caputo found Harrison on the floor of his Arizona home with pen in hand and an unfinished poem on the desk.