Brown Dog: Novellas [NOOK Book]


?Among the most indelible American novelists of the last hundred years. . . . [Harrison] remains at the height of his powers.??Dwight Garner, The New York Times on The River Swimmer

New York Times best-selling author Jim Harrison is one of America?s most beloved writers, and of all his creations, Brown Dog, a bawdy, reckless, down-on-his-luck Michigan Indian, has earned cult status with readers in the more than two decades since his first ...
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Brown Dog: Novellas

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“Among the most indelible American novelists of the last hundred years. . . . [Harrison] remains at the height of his powers.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times on The River Swimmer

New York Times best-selling author Jim Harrison is one of America’s most beloved writers, and of all his creations, Brown Dog, a bawdy, reckless, down-on-his-luck Michigan Indian, has earned cult status with readers in the more than two decades since his first appearance. For the first time, Brown Dog gathers all the Brown Dog novellas, including one never-published one, into one volume—the ideal introduction (or reintroduction) to Harrison’s irresistible Everyman.

In these novellas, BD rescues the preserved body of an Indian from Lake Superior’s cold waters; overindulges in food, drink, and women while just scraping by in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; wanders Los Angeles in search of an ersatz Native activist who stole his bearskin; adopts two Native children; and flees the authorities, then returns across the Canadian border aboard an Indian rock band’s tour bus. The collection culminates with He Dog, never before published, which finds BD marginally employed and still looking for love (or sometimes just a few beers and a roll in the hay), as he goes on a road trip from Michigan to Montana and back, arriving home to the prospect of family stability and, perhaps, a chance at redemption.

Brown Dog underscores Harrison’s place as one of America’s most irrepressible writers, and one of the finest practitioners of the novella form.

Praise for Jim Harrison’s Brown Dog:

“There is broad comedy in the writing, but also tenderness, and never a moment when the reader isn’t rooting for Brown Dog to get it right. . . . We would all be the poorer if deprived of Jim Harrison’s first-rate stories.”—The New York Times Book Review on The Summer He Didn’t Die

“Brown Dog, an old friend to fans of Harrison, . . . boasts the rare ability to reject the frills and artificial complexities of modern life and keep to the basics. . . . Like reading a book describing dear friends.”—Miami Herald on The Farmer’s Daughter

“A 21st-century version of Huck Finn.”—The Charleston Gazette on The Farmer’s Daughter

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Anthony Doerr
What Harrison does on every page of Brown Dog is have fun…not simply for the sake of delight but because he believes delight is as close to sublimity as humans can get. Despite all the beer drinking and yearning, sometimes you look up from his pages and catch yourself wrestling with big, important questions about class, race and ecological degradation.
Publishers Weekly
★ 09/23/2013
This essential collection of six novellas (including the never-before-published “He Dog”) offers an omnibus look at Brown Dog, a pure Harrison creation and a glorious character who will make readers howl with delight. From his first scuffling introduction in The Woman Lit by Fireflies, this boozy, backwoods, tree-cutting, snow-shoveling part–Native American from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wins over his audience with a bawdy, sometimes thoughtful tone. In these stories, he shambles from a day-to-day set of misadventures arising from some illegal salvage diving to a loopy picaresque jaunt through Los Angeles (“I just want my bearskin back,” he says), to something much more profound and redemptive, standing in as a father figure to several vulnerable Indian and partially Indian children, despite the absence of much paternal influence in his own life. When a girlfriend tells him he’s “involved in failure as a habit,” Brown Dog says, “I never felt I did all that badly at life.” He mentions a youth spent as a bare-knuckle fighter, but his greatest successes are usually horizontal, as he manages a string of unlikely, often alcohol-fueled sexual conquests, from Shelley the anthropologist, who schemes to get him to reveal the location of an ancient Indian burial mound, to a lonely Jewish dentist who wants to “go at it like canines unmindful of the noise they made.” Often moving, frequently funny, these 500 pages offer the best way to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with one of literature’s great characters. (Dec.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Brown Dog:

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013

“What Harrison does on every page of Brown Dog is have fun . . . not simply for the sake of delight but because he believes delight is as close to sublimity as humans can get. . . . The great project of life, he reminds us, is to sit still long enough to appreciate it.” —Anthony Doerr, The New York Times Book Review

“Brown Dog is . . . an everyman on the most fundamental level . . . vividly, evocatively, alive. . . . These novellas read like a nuanced conversation between author and character. . . . Masterful.” —David Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“Harrison’s writing is funny, generous, and bittersweet, with an unexpected, plain-speaking poetry.” —Andrea Denhoed, New Yorker (Online—“Books to Watch Out For”)

“There’s no mistaking Harrison’s signature style. . . . Brown Dog is rich in character and incident, rude humor and melancholy. It is both heartfelt and ruefully real.” —William S. Kowinski, The San Francisco Chronicle

“The delightful and maddening character of Brown Dog . . . [is] one of Harrison’s best-loved creations. . . . [Brown Dog] stands among Harrison’s best work.” —Tim McNulty, The Seattle Times

“Harrison’s [prose] is exuberant. . . . I can’t think of a better writer on the clash of humans and the natural world. He’s a force of nature on the page.” —Porter Shreve, The Washington Post

“Lovable . . . Brown Dog . . . is a big-hearted rascal who is always getting into deep trouble with the ladies, and often with the law. . . . Strong and spirited, and there is some great storytelling here.” —Jim Carmin, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Is there another novelist in the last hundred years who has developed a character as vivid as Brown Dog? . . . Mr. Harrison’s . . . skill at developing and fleshing out characters into breathing beings—people you know or once knew—is remarkable.” —Jonathan Rickard, New York Journal of Books

“B.D.’s adventures are quirky, sometimes humorous, sometimes illegal. . . . But his simplicity is all on the surface. As Harrison artfully shows, inside B.D. roil the complexities of his past, a past that dances in ancient choreography with his present—and his future.” —Daniel Dyer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“One of literature’s great characters. . . . An essential collection from an American legend.” —Publishers Weekly (Best of 2013)

“One of America’s greatest writers . . . An indelible character . . . Brown Dog is a robust, ribald, and irreverent tribute to the idea and ideal of maximum life.” —David Masciotra, The Daily Beast

“Rollicking comic novellas . . . Brown Dog is very much an American hero—not the macho blowhard kind but the picaresque variety, a la Huck Finn.” —Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

“Deeply magnetic . . . [Brown Dog] leaps off the page with the same comedy and verve that Ignatius J. Reilly does in . . . A Confederacy of Dunces.” —Dimitri Nasrallah, Toronto Star (Canada)

“One of the great characters in American literature—as American as Twain’s Huck Finn or Hemingway’s Nick Adams.” —Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness

“Pity poor Brown Dog, the Everyman of the North Woods, whose luck would be nonexistent were it not bad. Still, Brown Dog’s countenance is as cheerful as Don Quixote’s was woeful. . . . Rollicking, expertly observed, beautifully written. Any new book by Harrison is cause for joy, and having all the Brown Dog stories in one place is no exception.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Library Journal
Since 1990, Harrison (Legends of the Fall) has been publishing novellas about the adventures of Brown Dog, a character of partly Native American descent living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This volume collects Harrison's five previously published Brown Dog stories and adds a new one. Brown Dog exists primarily off the grid of contemporary society and subsists on odd jobs (some legal, some not) and the occasional generosity of his (maybe) Uncle Delmore and the kind but troubled social worker Gretchen, who is the object of Brown Dog's unrequited passion. Motivated primarily by alcohol and sex (his genuine affection for women of all shapes and sizes makes him remarkably successful in this endeavor), Brown Dog can't seem to stay out of trouble. Harrison takes pains not to paint his leading man as a "noble savage," but the character's observations highlight the foibles and hypocrisy of modern life. VERDICT Readers new to Harrison's sagas will be happy for this full introduction. Those already familiar will find here a satisfying conclusion that leaves open the possibility for further adventures.—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-09-01
Pity poor Brown Dog, the Everyman of the North Woods, whose luck would be nonexistent were it not bad. Still, Brown Dog's countenance is as cheerful as Don Quixote's was woeful. Harrison's comic hero--and in some ways alter ego--is as quixotic as they come, depending on kind winds to blow him a little money, some booze and a bit of righteous loving. In this exercise in well-effected repackaging, Brown Dog's tales are lifted from other Harrison collections (e.g., The Farmer's Daughter, 2009, and The Summer He Didn't Die, 2005) and gathered in a single volume, which is just right. When we first met Brown Dog, he was a barroom horndog generally taken for an Indian (though, at first, he's not so sure of that: "Now I'm no more Indian than a keg of nails") and able to wheedle a drink or two out of passing anthropologists for his trouble. He was also the haunted discoverer of the body of an unmistakably authentic Indian below the waters of Lake Superior, waters so cold that bodies do not bloat and float in them. That body will turn up from time to time as Brown Dog leaves the Upper Peninsula on sometimes-unwanted quests--to Los Angeles, for instance, to hunt down a bearskin that's been stolen from him and to Canada, in the company of some Native rockers. But mostly he hangs around in the pines, always just barely a step ahead of the law and in trouble in every other way; when we leave him in the hitherto unpublished novella He Dog, he is a step away from being pounded by "a strapping woman" named Big Cheryl, who reckons that the experience might just do B.D. some good. Rollicking, expertly observed, beautifully written. Any new book by Harrison is cause for joy, and having all the Brown Dog stories in one place is no exception.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Hallelujah for this omnibus collecting all five of Jim Harrison's wonderful, previously published Brown Dog novellas, plus a bonus, unusually sentimental new one. Brown Dog isn't a canine but a woodsman, fisherman, charming lecher, and free spirit of mixed Chippewa-Finnish blood. He is one of Harrison's finest creations, a standout in a prolific career that has captured American wildlife and wild lives, the disenfranchised poor and ambitious academics, and the sublimity of our vast forests and hidden streams in more than thirty books of poetry, novels, and novellas, including Legends of the Fall, True North, and The Great Leader.

Harrison first introduced this goofy, winning loser and "wonderful backwoods nitwit" in his 1990 collection, The Woman Lit by Fireflies, which along with the title novella from the 2005 collection, The Summer He Didn't Die, remain the strongest Brown Dog tales. If you're going to read just two, these get my vote, but my guess is that once you submit to the charms of the original "Brown Dog," you're going to sit up and beg for more. Just be prepared for some serious delight, along with earthy whiffs of wild morels and morals, booze and botany, and lots of unapologetically horndog sex.

Brown Dog lives and lusts off the grid in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where "getting drunk twice in one day" was called a doubleheader and summer was "known locally as three months of bad sledding." He supports himself — barely — with odd jobs, logging wood for pulp, repairing deer cabins, and shoveling snow. Fueled by a steady diet of six-packs, schnapps, gamy stews, and hearty sex, he thrives on walking in the woods, fishing, and hunting. He'd like to know something about his parents, who disappeared when he was a baby, leaving him to be raised by his grandfather — and so would we, just one narrative thread that engrosses us in these robust, rollicking tales.

There's something hapless but never hopeless about Brown Dog, who constantly gets caught up in harebrained schemes to protect what's sacred to him, including the Anishinabe burial grounds, whose location he's stupidly divulged to a seductive anthropology graduate student during a "pussy trance." While diving for salvaged treasure in the frigid waters of Lake Superior, he brings up a perfectly preserved dead Indian in full tribal regalia, whom he attempts first to sell, and then, concerned it may be his long-lost father, bury with dignity rather than turn over to the authorities.

B.D., as he's often called, frequently ends up on the lam. He's a fish out of water when he lands in Los Angeles in pursuit of a precious bearskin bequeathed to him by his wealthy uncle Delmore. Harrison milks the culture shock to highlight the absurdities of Hollywood, where altering a line from "Call me a cab" to "Get me a cab" is considered important work — a culture he knows firsthand from his own experience writing screenplays. A visit to a Costco in Montana is nearly as mind-blowing for Brown Dog. In a particularly moving caper, this noble and utterly gentle savage flees with his fetal alcohol-damaged stepdaughter, Berry, to Canada in order to protect her from certain misery in the state institution to which she's been remanded. Berry is a woodland nymph who will never speak but can imitate more than fifty birdcalls perfectly - - and who, like Brown Dog, would perish in captivity.

A warning about this collection: It hasn't been edited for continuity, which means there are repetitions — including recaps of Brown Dog's prior foibles and "low crimes and misdemeanors." What may be more annoying to some readers is the frequent recurrence of words and phrases such as "weenie" and "got more ass than a toilet seat," the latter of which is funnier the first time around than the third.

Attentive readers will also note that Harrison's timeline doesn't quite add up. We're told in the second novella that Brown Dog was born in 1950, yet he's already forty-seven when we meet him in the story first published in 1990. There are further inconsistencies concerning his uncle Delmore's age and the timing of his grandfather's death. More confusing, in the final tale, "He Dog," Brown Dog and his elusive beloved, a lesbian social worker named Gretchen, both note that their elaborate, often heartbreaking mating dance has been going on for a decade. By my calculations, the elapsed time of this screwball storyline is well under five years. No matter — an author has the right to change his mind (and details) between stories, and anyway, chronology is no doubt fungible to "those lucky ones to whom clocks are of no consequence but who drift along on the true emotional content of time."

Book group discussions often — too often, in my opinion — hinge on whether readers like a character. While Gretchen recognizes that her dear B.D. is "clearly the opposite of anything the culture thought was acceptable," he is as likable — not to mention interesting and self-aware - - as they come. "He was one of those very rare men who, for better or worse, knew exactly who he was," Harrison writes. This is a man whose "inner and outer child were pretty much glued together" — and stuck at around age twelve. His success with women isn't just because "he was quite a physical specimen from his lifelong work in the woods" but because he conveys a genuine, unironic fondness for them. Far from being the "functionally illiterate-rawboned Indian logger" described by a glib journalist doing a story on the Upper Peninsula's "outcast subculture," Brown Dog's reading encompasses girlie and fishing magazines, all of his grandfather's library of Horatio Alger and Zane Grey, and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, given to him by a "rich cottager."

Harrison uses this bawdy yet thoughtful comic hero to highlight the inanities and hypocrisies of modern life and show what actually matters — open season for book group discussions. For the most part, Brown Dog lives in the present, blithely unconcerned with things beyond his ken, including world news and the future. He often lapses "into a state much envied by the ancients. He thought of nothing for an hour and merely absorbed the landscape, the billions of green buds in thousands of acres of trees surrounding him?. He had never thought a second of the word 'meditation' and this made it all easier because he was additionally blessed with no sense of self-importance or personality which are preoccupations of upscale people."

With Brown Dog, Harrison has succeeded in creating a sort of unknowing sage with depths akin to those of trout holes. "I've got this personal feeling things are not supposed to be happening to people all the time. At least I'm not designed for it. There should be more open spaces between events." Yet time after time when he's "down in a mind hole," the "almost unpardonable beauty" of nature buoys him: "All in all, he thought, nearly everything was impossible but then along came things as marvelous as creeks and —" Creeks and what? I'll leave it for you to discover that other marvelous thing in a book filled with marvels — but just say that it has everything to do with a profound sense of connection.

Heller McAlpin is a New York–based critic who reviews books for, The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

Reviewer: Heller McAlpin

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802193001
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/3/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 108,239
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Jim Harrison is the author of thirty-five previous books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including Legends of the Fall, The Road Home, Returning to Earth, and The English Major. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he has had work published in twenty-seven languages. Harrison lives in Montana and Arizona.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014

    I enjoyed much of the book with so many insightful lessons and t

    I enjoyed much of the book with so many insightful lessons and the simple and poetic flow of the narration and dialogue. Jim Harrison's style, compactness of his stories and intelligence in his writing, especially in this book makes him a distinguished writer and author. Enjoy stories written in this style such as Chekhov's Ward No 6 , and Chando's The Usurper and other stories. I am waiting for more of Jim Harrison's stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014

    This is supposed to be amusing?

    I understand from reading other reviews that stories about an alcoholic loser are considered highly entertaining. I can't see it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2014


    Has suspense highly recomended for 9-11

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2014

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