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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True North 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An aviation thriller for sure. Exciting from beginning to end. Government cover ups, intrique, romance. This book has it all. Would love to see this in a movie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i really enjoyed this book! I thought it was great, and very educational. Although it was long, i still liked it alot. I hope that Mark Harrison publishes more books, you can visit his site @ have fun!! make sure you buy this book here online cuz its cheaper and you can get more for less!!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
If you¿ve read some of Harrison¿s other writings¿I¿ve only read his memoir Off to the Side and his novel Farmer¿you visit some of the same themes in True North his love of dogs and the outdoors, his search for a personal religion that works for him, his love of Paris. Because the novel explores the character David Burkett¿s search to discover the history of his robber barren ancestors, who denuded of trees a large area of Michigan¿s Upper Peninsula, it touches on themes of resource exploitation that invoke Edward Abbey. True North is above all narrative driven. There is very little dialogue. The novel is entirely in the voice of Burkett, who reminisces about his life on the UP and the other places his life takes him to Ohio, Arizona, Mexico and Paris. If the novel has an epicenter, it is in the spaces beneath an immense stump that Burkett discovers while researching his family¿s legacy. His narrative rambles over his life from his adolescence to his late 30s and strings together memories of his family, friends and romantic relationships. The novel paints Burkett¿s inner world, and so sometimes bogs down in self involvement. The interest in this novel centers on those who maintain a lasting, if intermittent presence in Burkett¿s life his mother and father, those who work for them, his sister, his ex-wife, and a woman he loves, if you can call it that, and his dog Carla. Their presence throughout the book anchors the story. Because Burkett is the well-to-do scion of the natural resource pillaging he seeks to document in a book he¿s trying to write, he doesn¿t need to worry about the banalities of work. He is free to travel about as he chooses and pursue his interests. The natural history of the UP and the time that Burkett spends in the field doing his research provide the needed backdrop to this novel. I need to digress for a moment to explain that for me this novel bestowed a love of the UP and the great lakes region that issues from personal roots. I liked True North for the same reason I liked the movie ¿North Country¿ about the women who demanded decent treatment while working in the iron mines of northern Minnesota. My mother came from the small town of Taconite in the Mesabi Iron Range. Harrison mentions the Mesabi Range in the novel. I visited the area occasionally as a child during rare trips with my parents, and in Duluth had my first experience gazing at the watery horizon of a great lake. This novel is painted in broad strokes and covers years of the main character¿s life. It is too smart to arrive at any conclusion about its subjects. Harrison travels down a lot of paths here. There are some moments of self discovery here, but the narrative focuses primarily people and events. The emergence and reemergence of the people whose lives revolve around Burkett develops a compelling familiarity. Among other things this novel traces Burkett¿s relationship with his father, who is perhaps literature¿s most despicable father since Fyodor Karamazov. This relationship culminates in the novel¿s unexpected ending that, if you¿ve read Peter Matthiessen¿s Far Tortuga, suggests homage.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Read this book! A page-turner with more twists and bumps than the taxiways at Newark! Non-stop action and adventure set in early 1930s. The author has created a solid and true American hero -- a former Ace Pilot from World War I who has great wit, charm and good looks -- and will stop at nothing to uncover the truth in an accident investigation. Great characters: from lovely warm friends to evil nemesis and sexy love interests. I learned a bit along the way too about what it would've been like to fly in those days! Fast and fun like Grisham, but with more character development.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jim Harrison is a writer's writer and a reader's writer and quite simply one of the best yarn spinners writing today. TRUE NORTH is a fine work of fiction that not only tells an intensely interesting story, it also exudes some of the more poetic prose and contemplative spiritual psychology that touches an audience of readers longing for books about environmentalism, about contemporary sexuality, about dysfunctional families, and about seeking sanity in a world apparently bent on squashing it.Briefly, this is the story of David Burkett, born to Robber Barons in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who gained their wealth at the expense of destroying the timber lands which in turn deprived the Native Americans of their space and created a desecration of the land through logging and mining that permanently altered the target of their greed. But David wants revenge on his family's history, a history which includes his immediate family - a mother so lost in pills and alcohol and high society that she is unavailable, a father who is also an alcoholic, a pedophile, and in general a detestable boor who buys his way out of recurring run-ins with the law for raping young girls only to spend and squander the family fortune for his insatiable hedonism, and a sister Cynthia who, though younger than David, is brassy enough to escape this detestable family and run off with a half breed to disgrace the family she loathes. David attempts to avoid his genetic disposition by committing to right wing religion, but eventually fails in that and finds himself lusting after every female he encounters - never finding love, but never really knowing how to love. He finally decides his only salvation is to write a book that tells the public the truth about the environmental murderers of his family and his attempts to accomplish this mission fill the pages of this wondrous novel. How he finally arrives at a stage of self-realization and leaves his obsession with destroying the influence of his family's influence to discover that wearing the sins of his father around his neck has prevented him from looking up and ahead and seeing the beauty of nature and the connection with the meaning of life that this allows is the remarkable journey Harrison creates. This story is never less than interesting and absorbing as a novel, but it is in the language of writing that Jim Harrison excels. His style includes free-association of sometimes a dozen thoughts and memories and observations in one paragraph. But he never loses us as readers. At times he stops for poetic words and the reader is strongly tempted to underline favorite passages as poems for re-reading later. 'When you're sixteen your world is small and events easily conspire to make it even smaller. You have glimpses of greater dimensions but this perception easily retracts. Eros enlivens another world but not the simple world of masturbatory trance...Naturally during the act of love you're undisturbed by reality, a grace note I also found in trout fishing, but then lovemaking and fishing don't manage to dominate your life like you wished they could.' '[Laurie] didn't so much die as withdraw, and her body under the sheet was still but there was an aura of departure that made me feel cold despite the warm room. Instead of pressing the button to call a nurse I listened to an aspect of emptiness I hadn't heard before as if her passing had stopped all other sound....When it was over I had nothing left about which to draw conclusions. My incomprehension was total. She was there and then she wasn't and though I understood the biological fact of death the whole ballooned outward from the mute sum of the parts.' '...I recalled how a wonderfully cynical history professor had pointed out that when we came to America we were always discovering something like the source of the Mississippi that the Natives were already well aware of, but then our attitude to the Natives was not unlike Hitler's attitude toward the Jews. And th
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book around Fathers day and really enjoyed it. Its amazing how a talented author can bring a story alive with rich detail and interesting, complexed characters. Its such a blessing to read such a well written novel. This book deals with the complexities of David Burketts Life and with his shamed father. I admire the lead character and the book made me consider living in a log cabin myself someday reading my books by the fireplace. (Hopefully with plenty of bug repellant). I definitely enjoyed this book and will proably read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, a painfully dull, long-winded novel that never seemed to go anywhere or even keep a pace. The protagonist was not a character that could conger up interest, curiousity, sympathy or even hate from the reader. I challenged myself to finish it and it was a grueling test, page by page. My dread at picking up the book only left upon reading the last page. Knowing there was a last page, an end to the sheer boredom, was the novel's highlight. A real disappointment from the master of Legends of the Fall.