Since the death of Ernest Hemingway, Jim Harrison has been considered the tough guy of American fiction. He lived in Michigan’s UP, for Chrissake. He shot deer, he fished for trout with a fly rod. Holy cow, he was Ernie re-incarnated. He was even a miniaturist, like Ernie.
Bad news. He is not Ernie. I mean, he is a great miniaturist. He has done unbelievable work—witness Legends of the Fall and many other long short stories or short novels or novellas or whatever.
But the two tales included in his most recent publication are different. Their titles are “The Land of Unlikeness” and “The River Swimmer.” “The Land of Unlikeness" has a lot to recommend it, despite the long passages of boring and inane prose. It is the story of an aging artist/art professor who is forced to return to his home in Michigan and baby-sit (no other word will do) his aging mother while his sister, who has selflessly cared for the mother for years, takes her one and only trip to Europe. In typical Jim Harrison fashion, the prof links up with his high school sweetheart, whose naked pudenda he convinces her to allow him to paint after he screws her. Believe me, it is a little hard to believe.
The second story is harder to swallow. Long passages of inane prose about the problems of being wealthy and a man who wants to swim all the rivers of the earth, but when he’s in the water sees water babies, which are the spirits of unborn children somehow.
I love Jim Harrison. I love his stories and I identify with his persona. For years, I have hunted and fished in the UP. My wife and I own a camp there, and I have caught more than my share of walleyes. I have also killed at several four bucks with the rifle, and others with the bow. I understand where Harrison is coming from, and I applaud his devotion to nature and the natural world. But these two stories are not worthy of Harrison’s genius, I am so sorry to say. They preach, which is something Jim Harrison has never done before and should never do again.