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
The first story, The Land of Unkindness, may make you take up the pursuit of being an artist alongside the possible pursuit of various short periods of passion with woman of your liking. You may even settle for a more less strenuous activity of seeking out a likewise story like that of Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. This story contains all of the above themes, stringed together with some great words in some nice sentences.
The second story, The River Swimmer, may make you take up the exercise of swimming, at great lengths and cross seas stopping on the way attracted to a woman or two in search of Water Babies. You may also yet again take the less strenuous task of reading a similar but short story The Swimmer by John Cheever and maybe couple of other tales by other authors. This story contains all I just mentioned, written with a wonderful writing style.
Both of these stories have the spotlight on men who are in the pursuit of something with a passion and obsession whether it be art, swimming or companionship with women with beauty, money or power.
(The River Swimmer) “The young scholar from Michigan State said that poets and novelists were whores for language, that they would give anything for something good. Thad easily accepted the idea that he was a whore for swimming, the only activity that gave him total pleasure and a sense of absolutely belonging on Earth, especially swimming in rivers with the current carrying your water-enveloped body along at its own speed. It was a bliss to him so why shouldn’t he be obsessed?”