Sunday, June 17, 2012

The English Major by Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison’s The English Major is another feather in the cap for one of America’s greatest novelists. A slightly comedic extrapolation on growing “older” The English Major is part road trip and part rumination on the plight of American males past the age of fifty. After his wife leaves him Cliff decides to take a road trip across the United States and soon begins an affair with one of his former students who hitches a ride with him. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Vivian is badgering him and his son, a successful Hollywood producer, expresses concern for his well being. Somewhere along the way Cliff decides to rename the states he’s traveling through (for example, to Cliff’s way of thinking Alabama should be Chickasaw). Told in the first person by Cliff, we are treated to his northwoods intelligentsia and outdoorsman philosophies as he circumnavigates his way through several misadventures. Far from slapstick, but often silly and still at times meaningful, Harrison weaves a compelling portrait of a man at a crossroads in his life. I read The English Major the same week I read Harrison’s latest poetry collection, Songs of Unreason, which I highly recommend. Harrison’s novels, novellas and poetry are the among the finest literature available today. Harrison’s writing is often lyrical, often Rabelaisian and ultimately memorable. In a poem titled “Broom” he touches again upon the theme of loss and discovery: “To remember you’re alive/visit the cemetery of your father/at noon after you’ve made love/and are still wrapped in a mammalian/odor that you are forced to cherish.” Jim Harrison has long been one of my favorite writers and both The English Major and Songs of Unreason are welcome additions to my overflowing bookcase.

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