Edward C Reilly, 1996
Jim Harrison was born December 11, 1937 in Grayling, Michigan. In 1945 he was blinded in one eye. He was having his first sexual experience when the girl jabbed in the eye with a glass beaver. He was so poor growing up; he couldn’t have an operation to fix it. When he finally got the operation, the doctors had failed.
He was an obnoxious as a child. He didn’t really get good grades. He was really religious from age 14-15. At 16 years old, girls changed his mind.
His favorite books were Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner as well as Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground.
Jim Harrison married Linda May King in 1960. He published Plain Song and pursued his Master’s Degree. Then he taught for two years at New York University.
Jim is described as preprocessing, comfortable, worn and unpretentious. He has lots of dogs and even some cats. He loves cooking and has a wine cellar. He has lots of books.
Legends of the Fall was published and it made him lots of money, which he totally blew. He was very self destructive at one point. His characters are like himself. They find family at the center of their existence and finds meaning through them. Jim found meaning in his two daughters.
The Essay “Going Places” talks about the need for experiences and new memories. It was written for the Esquire Articles—a part of Just Before Dark collection.
Not Machos, Just Nachos. Women may not enjoy Legends of the Fall because it celebrates masculinity and self-sufficiency. Women don’t understand why a man must blaze his own solitary path in this senseless world—that men must often leave women behind even if they are pregnant. And, unfortunately, the women may be killed because they are vulnerable.
Macho Fiction includes fear, obsession, mutilation and death. That is not what Harrison intended. He was hurt when critics called his fiction Macho. This was how he grew up though. He doesn’t like to read reviews because of that. He decided, “Who gives a fuck?”
He read William Least Heat Moon’s PrairyErth. Also Faulkner, Hemingway, Tom McGuane, Peter Mathiesson, William Styron, Larry Brown, Cormac McCarthy.
Wolf is a False Memoir. It is actually semi-autobiographical. Very little symbolism.
He drank and had suicidal thoughts. He had a midlife crisis at 29 years old. He wrote as he remembered things, not necessarily as they really happened.
Soundings: Swanson finds meaning in Chaotic Life. It is 30 degrees or so in the wrong direction. Bring it back to a useless life. Joyce Carol Oates reviewed Swanson in Soundings. Harrison’s heroes are not of the city or the wilderness either one. Before he wrote it, wolf was just a diagram.
A Good Day To Die: There are some nasty characters—particularly Sylvia and Tom. They exist in real life and nobody writes about them. There are allusions to the Nez Peace Indians in the book. There is lots of symbolism in the book and it was influenced by the 1960s
Farmer: It was heartbreaking for Jim Harrison to write. It was critically rejected. Joseph is actually the most like Harrison himself. The setting was in Michigan, where he lives. Hearth Goddess image of women in this book. The women in Farmer assert their independence without losing their femininity. The Symbol in Farmer is the ocean, which Joe dreams about.
Legends of the Fall: It is three novellas in all. No one would publish them as a book. He published Revenge in Esquire magazine. He used short stylistic sentences like Hemingway. He was told his novellas lacked substance and character development. The Legends of the Fall Movie had a Western feel to it. Legends of the Fall should have been a novel unto itself. Revenge, however, was nearly perfect in length. Revenge was about the Machismo code, which is bad in Harrison’s eyes.
The basis for Colonel William Ludlow was his wife’s Great-Great Grandfather. The journal entries of the Colonel were really used because it was such elegant writing. Tristan was the heart of the story because he accepts nothing. Tristan has been compared to Cain. Is Legends of the Fall an Epic or Saga maybe.
Tristan’s madness causes pain. He has to find meaning and purpose outside of convention. He is the last of the outlaws. He is self-reliant, fiercely independent and the creator of his own destiny.
Legends of the Fall also deals with the plight of the Native Americans. It ends in classic cantharis. The payoff is the killing of gangsters. Pain melts into the harmony.
Warlock: To Tilt My World. It was both damned and praised. It was a comedy and tragedy into one moral tale of good versus evil. A comic midlife crisis or “Don’t be a drag-ass.”
Sundog: The Strangs of the World. It is a detective story in that it is the mystery of personality. It is unsatisfying in that it is fragmented though. It is about construction workers and a Christian Hero. Stang is the narrative voice. He was off the wall.
Dalva: Harrison said writing that nearly killed him. It was technical. There were stylistic flaws. Harrison was stressed and sick when writing it. Dalva, age 45, had a midlife crisis. She gave up her son and counsels teenagers. Dalva is about a woman, an old man and a dipshit. The original sin of Americans is the desecration of the Native Americans. It is the sin of Greed.
The Woman Lit By Fireflies: It was always worth a look. There are short stories in this novella. Brown Dog is about macho man, an alcoholic in the wilderness. It is a satire and a comedy of sorts. Sunset Limited is a moral fable of redemption. Friendship is a theme. The Woman Lit by Fireflies wasn’t liked by some critics, but one critic called it a Tour de Force. The character is a woman who is vulnerable. He got the idea from stopping at a rest stop and seeing a woman go over a fence into a cornfield. He made it into a scene of a woman leaving her husband.
Julip: There is no reason to see life as tragic. It was three novellas or three short stories: Julip, The Seven Ounce Man, and The Beige Dolorosa. Julip explores female sexuality in a light tone. It ends with Julip transcending her schizophrenic upbringing. The Seven Once Man is some misadventures like The Brown Dog. The Beige Doloroso is about a professor who things he has Alzheimers Turns out he was just tired, kind of like Jim Harrison did. It is Pomp and Circumstance and academic satire.
“I don’t look very poetic,” says Harrison. He tried to write longer novels, but it only comes out in poetry. His poems are full of beautiful descriptions of nature. His poetry is more autobiographical.