The River Swimmer


“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

“Trenchant and visionary.”—Ron Carlson, The New York Times Book Review

A New York Times best-seller, enthusiastically received by critics and embraced by readers, The River Swimmer is Jim Harrison at his most memorable: two men, one young and one older, confronting inconvenient loves ...

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The River Swimmer

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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

“Trenchant and visionary.”—Ron Carlson, The New York Times Book Review

A New York Times best-seller, enthusiastically received by critics and embraced by readers, The River Swimmer is Jim Harrison at his most memorable: two men, one young and one older, confronting inconvenient loves and the encroachment of urbanity on nature, written with freshness, abundant wit, and profound humanity. In “The Land of Unlikeness,” 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 sweetheart, of his relationship with his estranged daughter, and of his own lost love of painting. In “The River Swimmer,” Harrison ventures into the magical as an Upper Peninsula farm boy is irresistibly drawn to swimming as an escape, and sees otherworldly creatures in the water. 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 an exceptional reminder of why Jim Harrison is one of the most cherished and important writers at work today.

“Two years have gone by since I first suggested to President Obama that he create a new Cabinet post, and appoint distinguished fiction writer Jim Harrison as secretary for quality of life. The president still has not responded to my suggestion. . . . [The River Swimmer] deepens and broadens [Harrison’s] already openhearted and smart-minded sense of the way we live now, and what we might do to improve it.”—Alan Cheuse, NPR

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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.)
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: 1/8/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 5
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Harrison is the author of thirty-six books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. He divides his time between Montana and Arizona.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2013

    Amazon is selling the kindle edition for $9. Save $6 there. 

    Amazon is selling the kindle edition for $9. Save $6 there. 

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    Vintage Harrison Novellas

    Harrison is a master of the novella format ever since his first three were published as "Legends of the Fall". Rounding out at about 100 pages, novellas nicely bridge the gap between short story and novel. The first story is classic later Harrison: A well meaning, benevolent if somewhat salacious old man enjoys food and restorative walks as a means to recover significance. The second, The River Swimmer, more resembles Harrison's earlier work: more action and youthful folly. Both tales provide an excellent few hours of reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2013

    **I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads**

    **I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads**
    I know I liked this book, but I am not sure of my reaction to it.  It left me feeling confused, in a daze.  I honestly am having difficulty writing this review; I just feel so overwhelmed with trying to put my thoughts and feelings into words that make sense.
    The main character in each of the novellas was likable, and I rooted for the two of them the entire time.  They were both trying to find their place in the world, live a life that made them happy, and I was wishing them the best (although I was not always happy with their decisions: I felt that Thad should stay away from Emily, and Clive needed to stay away from Laurette; I did not feel that either girl was good for the main character and would only help him flounder [no pun intended, as both characters fished]).
    The only thing that actually bothered me was that there were times where I felt that the book was taking place decades ago, when it was made clear that both of the novellas took place post-2000 (The River Swimmer mentioned 9/11; I forget how I came to the conclusion that The Land Of Unlikeness took place during this time period).  However, this could be because of the setting, rural Michigan for the most part.  Since I never have lived or been there, it could very well be like taking a step into the past and I am just unaware of that fact.
    I wish that I knew what the water babies were.  I hope that I did not just miss the description that told me what they were.  But I think that maybe the author wanted us to think about what they could be; maybe we were not meant to know the actual answer.  It was sweet, though, how much Thad cared about them and missed being around them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    The book

    This book sounds good to me to read because it sounds bad at the some time so if yoy like to read books that arbad for you to read try this book maybe tou will like it or you will not like to read this book

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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