The River Swimmer

The River Swimmer

by Jim Harrison
     
 

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Jim Harrison is one of America’s most beloved and critically-acclaimed authors—on a par with American literary greats like Richard Ford, Anne Tyler, Robert Stone, Russell Banks, and Ann Beattie. His latest collection of novellas, The River Swimmer, is Harrison at his most memorable: a brilliant rendering of two men striving to find their way

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Overview

Jim Harrison is one of America’s most beloved and critically-acclaimed authors—on a par with American literary greats like Richard Ford, Anne Tyler, Robert Stone, Russell Banks, and Ann Beattie. His latest collection of novellas, The River Swimmer, is Harrison at his most memorable: a brilliant rendering of two men striving to find their way in the world, written with freshness, abundant wit, and profound humanity.

In The Land of Unlikeness, sixty-year-old art history academic Clive—a failed artist, divorced and grappling with the vagaries of his declining years—reluctantly returns to his family’s Michigan farmhouse to visit his aging mother. The return to familiar territory triggers a jolt of renewal—of ardor for his high school love, of his relationship with his estranged daughter, and of his own lost love of painting. In Water Baby, Harrison ventures into the magical as an Upper Peninsula farm boy is irresistibly drawn to the water as an escape, and sees otherworldly creatures there. Faced with the injustice and pressure of coming of age, he takes to the river and follows its siren song all the way across Lake Michigan.

The River Swimmer is a striking portrait of two richly-drawn, profoundly human characters, and an exceptional reminder of why Jim Harrison is one of the most cherished and important writers at work today.

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Editorial Reviews

Wendy Smith
…it's no accident that Clive and Thad are both farm boys drawn to adventures "out in the world." Going and staying alike have consequences—frequently mortal ones in Harrison's previous work. Here, he's achieved a mood that approximates in modern terms the tranquility of Shakespeare's late romances. The existential uncertainties that always animate Harrison's fiction are not so much resolved as accepted for what they are: the basic fabric of existence, from which we pluck as much happiness as we can.
Ron Carlson
…both of the novellas that make up Harrison's new book…dive into a watershed age with Harrison's signature gusto. Thad, the river swimmer, is 17 in every way; Clive, the art professor returning to the farm in The Land of Unlikeness, is 60. These two trenchant and visionary long stories are about the real human discomfort—and triumph—of being awake.
Dwight Garner
Mr. Harrison's new book, The River Swimmer…contains some of the best writing of his career. Both novellas burn brightly with what he calls, at one point, "unmitigated cupidity," not for money or possessions but for life and experience…[Harrison] is among the most indelible American novelists of the last hundred years…and if The River Swimmer is any indication, he remains at the height of his powers.
Publishers Weekly
The two novellas that constitute Harrison’s fine new collection are, as usual, quite different in scope and content. “The Land of Unlikeness” features Clive, 60 and divorced for two decades (“the starkest rupture in his life”), taking advantage of a forced three-month leave from his professorship at an Ivy League college in New York to care for his octogenarian mother, now watching birds on the family farm in northern Michigan. His younger sister, Margaret, who is embarking on a month-long European vacation, informs Clive that his old high school flame Laurette is back in town. Clive reflects on his rift with his alienated daughter, Sabrina, while he rekindles his artist’s ambitions despite his thwarted early career as a painter. As Clive relates his rustic origins through frequent, wistful reminisces, he has a “crotch painting experience” with Laurette, who remains the “overwhelming love of his life.” Margaret’s return home from Europe coincides with Sabrina’s visit for a friendly family reunion. The short title novella, a tall tale set in northern Michigan, finds 17-year-old Thad Love, a swimming prodigy, after getting injured in a fight with his girlfriend’s father, improbably swimming over 100 miles to Chicago, where he meets a new girl who takes him to France, where Thad is more seriously injured swimming the Loire river. Harrison’s (Legends of the Fall) novellas are each striking in their own ways, rich and satisfying. (Jan.)
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Praise for The River Swimmer

“In his fiction, especially, [Harrison has] hit a deep groove. His meditations on mortality are blended with an antic wit. . . . Mr. Harrison’s new book, The River Swimmer . . . contains some of the best writing of his career. Both novellas burn brightly with what he calls, at one point, ‘unmitigated cupidity,’ not for money or possessions but for life and experience. . . . He is among the most indelible American novelists of the last hundred years . . . Mr. Harrison contains multitudes; like a good rabbit liver pâté, there is a lot of him to spread around. . . . If The River Swimmer is any indication, he remains at the height of his powers.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Trenchant and visionary . . . Harrison is a writer of the body, which he celebrates as the ordinary, essential and wondrous instrument by which we measure the world. Without it, there is no philosophy. And with it, of course, philosophy can be a rocky test. . . . I could feel Jim Harrison grinning . . . in his glorious novella The River Swimmer.”—Ron Carlson, The New York Times Book Review

“[Harrison] has crafted gorgeous and wry sentences out of the quiet raging against the indignities and infirmities of age. And, in Clive, he has created another indelible and soulful rascal. . . . Harrison is one of our greatest voices of aging both clumsily and well and of teasing out hope amid sentimentality and dread.”—Ian Crouch, The Boston Globe

“You can’t escape your true nature, Jim Harrison’s two new novellas assert. . . . Here, he’s achieved a mood that approximates in modern terms the tranquility of Shakespeare’s late romances. The existential uncertainties that always animate Harrison’s fiction are not so much resolved as accepted for what they are: the basic fabric of existence, from which we pluck as much happiness as we can.”—Wendy Smith, The Washington Post

“[Harrison’s] latest book of novellas . . .deepens and broadens his already openhearted and smart-minded sense of the way we live now, and what we might do to improve it. . . . Harrison [is] the reigning master of the [novella] form. . . . I have to say that Harrison has been hard put to better his personal best, Legends of the Fall. . . . But with the lead piece in this new book, the autumnal novella he calls The Land of Unlikeness,’ he comes quite close. . . . The new novella is . . . no less intense, as it enriches and enlarges an emotion-charged period in the life of Clive, a divorced Midwestern painter-turned-critic. . . . What does the male version of quality of life really mean? Something like this, something like this. And female readers who don’t give over some time to studying Harrison’s version of it will be as foolish as the men.”—Alan Cheuse, NPR

“Ever since writing Legends of the Fall 30 years ago, Jim Harrison has produced a steady stream of novellas demonstrating what a writer can do in approximately 100 pages. The trick to a good novella is to give the same richness of story, action and characters as one finds in a full-length novel. At its best, it is a novel shorn of fat, full of story.”—Steve Novak, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Tales of manhood and magic . . . Harrison addresses with insight and humor such themes as the human relationship to the natural world, the powers of sexuality and violence, the uses of art, the line between sanity and madness, and the shadow of mortality.”—Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times

“Exquisite . . . While the first novella is about the constancy of the past to reassert itself in our lives, the second focuses on the inescapable currents that bear us into the future. . . . The two novellas masterfully treat themes that will be familiar to Harrison’s readers — the disjunction between contemporary life and rural terrain, our inability to escape the past, the vapidity of urbanity. The writing is sparse but powerful. . . . this diptych of a collection is a joy.”—Ted Hart, Kansas City Star

“Refreshing . . . The River Swimmer is Harrison at his crusty best.”—Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness (online)

“Jim Harrison is a master of the novella form.”—Steve Byrne, Detroit Free Press

“The ways in which [the two novellas] complement and contrast with each other attests to [Harrison’s] range. . . . Everyday epiphanies from a major author.”—Kirkus Reviews

“[A] fine new collection . . .Harrison’s novellas are each striking in their own ways, rich and satisfying.”—Publishers Weekly

“Harrison is one of America’s great literary treasures; his rugged, beautifully tough-minded works help define America and its wide-open spaces, and his readers form almost a cult. Here, he will delight them.”—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Library Journal
One of America's great literary treasures, Harrison delivers not one but two works: "The Land of Unlikeness," in which a washed-up 60-year-old academic returns to his Michigan home for renewal, and "Water Baby," in which an Upper Peninsula farm boy sees ghostly creatures in the waters of the nearby lake. Magic realism à la Harrison?
Kirkus Reviews
Though these two novellas feel slight in comparison with the best of the prolific author's novels, the ways in which they complement and contrast with each other attest to his range. Both The Land of Unlikeness and the title novella return Harrison (The Great Leader, 2011, etc.) to familiar territory, his native Michigan, with protagonists at very different stages of their lives. The autumnal opening novella finds a once-successful painter turned academic returning home to care for his mother, allowing his sister to experience some of the cosmopolitan life beyond Michigan that he has. Neither the author nor his protagonist takes himself overly seriously, though a sense of mortality pervades the story along with the possibility of renewal. "You're not going to live forever, Mister Bigshot," warns the mother, urging her son to reconcile with his daughter, who took sides after his divorce. He reunites with a boyhood love, rediscovers his passion for painting and reaffirms his engagement with a life that he has been watching from the sidelines: "It occurred to him that only purity of intent would save his own sorry soul. If he were to continue to paint he had to do so without the trace of the slumming intellectual toting around his heavy knapsack of ironies. He was well into his third act and further delay would be infamous." By contrast, the title story shows the first act of its protagonist's life reaching climax, as a 17-year-old boy who lives to swim (in rivers) experiences his sexual initiation, and the complications that follow, as he swims his way through a magical, rite-of-passage quest. "[H]umans are ill-prepared for the miraculous," he discovers. "It's too much of a jolt and the human soul is not spacious enough to deal with it." Ultimately, he realizes that "there was a world out there to swim through." Everyday epiphanies from a major author.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781470838560
Publisher:
Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
01/08/2013
Edition description:
Unabridged
Pages:
5
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 5.80(h) x 0.70(d)

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