Sunday, March 17, 2013

The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison’s books are treasures for readers who value a good story. The River Swimmer is no exception. Actually two novellas, the first being The Land of Unlikeness, followed by the title story. In The Land of Unlikeness we encounter Clive, a failed artist and aging art professor who returns to his boyhood home where encounters with his first love and his mother all coalesce into a rumination on aging, creativity, sex and love. Perhaps inspired by his youthful memories, Clive decides to begin painting again, but not for fame or money but simply because it’s enjoyable. Clive also grapples with his relationship with his estranged daughter. The best of the two novellas, The Land of Unlikeness is typical of Harrison, and I mean that in a good way. The language is clear, the characters well drawn, and each page offers up a depth of insight. The River Swimmer is a shorter story. A farm boy, Thad, who enjoys swimming gets into a violent altercation with his girlfriend’s father. Thad sees strange creatures in the river, water babies, as he calls them, and soon embarks on a complicated journey where his new girlfriend, Emily, takes him to Paris. Thad’s intention to swim every river he encounters is punctuated by his personal struggles; deteriorating health and unusual relationships all make this a haunting tale. There is a sense of incompleteness about The River Swimmer. On one hand I felt that Harrison might have continued the story and provided a better resolution; but on the other hand its abrupt conclusion is still appropriate. Jim Harrison is one of America’s great writers and like most of his fans I eagerly snatch up his books when they’re published.

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