True North

True North

4.1 10
by Jim Harrison

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An epic tale that pits a son against the legacy of his family's desecration of the earth, and his own father's more personal violations, Jim Harrison's True North is a beautiful and moving novel that speaks to the territory in our hearts that calls us back to our roots.
The scion of a family of wealthy timber barons, David Burkett has grown up with a father who

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An epic tale that pits a son against the legacy of his family's desecration of the earth, and his own father's more personal violations, Jim Harrison's True North is a beautiful and moving novel that speaks to the territory in our hearts that calls us back to our roots.
The scion of a family of wealthy timber barons, David Burkett has grown up with a father who is a malevolent force and a mother made vague and numb by alcohol and pills. He and his sister Cynthia, a firecracker who scandalizes the family at fourteen by taking up with the son of their Finnish-Native American gardener, are mostly left to make their own way. As David comes to adulthood-often guided and enlightened by the unforgettable, intractable, courageous women he loves-he realizes he must come to terms with his forefathers' rapacious destruction of the woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as well as the working people who made their wealth possible.
Jim Harrison has given us a family tragedy of betrayal, amends, and justice for the worst sins. True North is a bravura performance from one of our finest writers, accomplished with deep humanity, humor, and redemptive soul.

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Editorial Reviews

Anthony Quinn
This sprawling, rackety novel will not do a great deal for Jim Harrison's reputation as a stylist, but in his portrait of a father and a son he has made an indelible addition to the gallery of literature's ''bad dads.''
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
If the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, what should a son do to provide moral recompense? In Harrison's earnest, initially riveting new novel, narrator David Burkett decides as a teenager in the 1960s that he must rectify the ecological damage done to his beloved Upper Peninsula area of Michigan by his rapacious timber baron ancestors. More immediately, he vows to tell the world about the rapes and abuses committed by his alcoholic father, a charismatic Yale graduate with an egregious sense of entitlement. After a foray into organized religion, David finds spiritual solace in the stark natural world, described by Harrison in soaring prose. Unable to sustain emotional connection with any woman other than his older sister, David has brief liaisons with four women, but he feels more pain over the death of his dog than of his marriage. Meanwhile, he spends decades working on a history of his despised family, only to realize that he is a dud as a writer. By this time, he's in his late 30s, a man who has never achieved maturity because his father hangs like an albatross around his neck. A master of surprise endings (Dalva, etc.), Harrison pulls off a bravura climax when David attempts to reconcile with his feckless father. By this time, though, the reader may have tired of the monochromatic narrative, composed mainly of David's anguished introspection and depressed dreams. Still, Harrison's tragic sense of history and his ironic insight into the depravities of human nature are as potent as ever and bring deeper meaning to his (eventually) redemptive tale. Agent, Bob Dattila at Phoenix Literary Agency. (May) Forecast: Like his well-received memoir, Off to the Side, this meaty novel gives Harrison-screenwriter, food critic, journalist and prolific novelist-the room to explore his native Michigan and its complicated citizens in rich and lengthy detail. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Narrator David Burkett gets right to the point on the first page of this book, proclaiming "My father was so purely awful that he was a public joke in our area." And truly the man is a monster: he rides roughshod over his family, rapes the daughter of his faithful valet, sells off a cabin willed to David by a black-sheep uncle, and presides over a family logging firm that has been despoiling Michigan's Upper Peninsula for decades. David can't quite stand up to him, though he begins avidly researching his family's misdeeds; his neurasthenic mother merely drifts about. His sister, Cynthia, is the only one with any gumption, cheekily telling off her dad while getting pregnant by the mixed-blood Finnish-Chippewa son of the family gardener (and this is the not-quite-liberated mid-Sixties, for goodness' sake). One wishes that Cynthia had narrated, for perhaps she could have redeemed this tale. David's account of his soul searching and various sexual grapplings is strangely flat and listless, which is surprising, given Harrison's reputation for acute and well-rendered insight in his numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry (e.g., The Road Home). There will, however, be definite interest where Harrison is popular.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Brooding, occasionally brutal eighth novel, linked to the author's previous work (The Road Home, 1998, etc.) by blistering contempt for the diseased American polity and acute existential melancholy. To be sure, narrator David Burkett shares with other Harrison protagonists a hearty appreciation of food, drink, sex, and the pleasures of hiking, swimming, camping, and fishing in what remains of the American wilderness. But his wealthy family made its money by despoiling Michigan's Upper Peninsula with logging and mining, and David becomes obsessed as a teenager with the idea that he must research and record the Burketts' crimes. Younger sister Cynthia simply rejects their father, a vicious, alcoholic molester of underage girls who's pillaged his children's trust funds; she marries their yardman's son and builds a healthier life. David, by contrast, can't seem to escape the toxic family legacy. In a narrative that moves by fits and starts from the mid-1960s through 1985, he chronicles his anguished search for religious faith, a series of failed relationships with women, and his 20-year struggle to turn his "project" into a meaningful, publishable account of what his relatives have done to the environment and to those under their feet, who "weren't quite people or human" to the robber barons who forged capitalist America. These are grim themes, and since the only humor here comes from the grown-up David's caustic comments about the idiocies of his younger self, one has to admit that True North is not always a lot of fun to read. The first savage climax comes with the father's rape of a 12-year-old girl, daughter of an army buddy who has worked for him ever since; it closes with a reprisalmore gruesome than that in Harrison's famous 1979 novella "Revenge." Even David's charming dog Carla, the only female with whom he has a fully satisfactory relationship, dies in this somber book's saddest scene. Bleak and uncompromising, but stout-hearted readers will be impressed by Harrison's fierce passion and dark poetry. Agent: Bob Dattila/Phoenix Literary Agency

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Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

True North

By Jim Harrison

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

ISBN: 0-8021-1773-2

Chapter One

I finally broke through to a clearing of about twenty acres. I was so relieved to escape the claustrophobic density of the woods that my eyes teared and I flopped down against a stump. After a few minutes my worried mind and eyes cleared to the degree that I could see that I was sitting on the edge of the grandest collection of white pine stumps that I had ever seen. They were simply immense, with several so large that three men with hands joined couldn't have encircled them. I had inadvertently discovered a stump shrine. I counted thirty. The soil must have been perfect for white pine and one could only imagine them rising a couple of hundred feet in toward the sky. My skin tingled though my heart and mind felt sore.

On the far side of the clearing there was a gulley that seemed to lead in a more westerly direction. Scarcely a hundred yards down the slow pitch of the gulley I came upon a stunning surprise. There before me was the largest of all white pine stumps, the great mother of stumps, straddling the gulley like a ten-ton spider supported by roots so massive I couldn't get my arms around them. I scrambled around to the other side and there was an opening large enough to crawl in. It was sufficiently high enough for me to sit up straight and there was light enough to see the ground, which was a mixture of cool sand and gravel. I was enthralled, and there was a distinct feeling similar to when I had been baptized. I thought that this was as close as I could come to finding a church for myself in our time.


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