When you read a novel by Jim Harrison, several things are a given. There will be long descriptive passages about food. Alcohol is often nearby and usually consumed in great gulping quantities. There will be sex—lots of it. There will be richly described violence. Much of the story will take place in the woods, where Nature heals or hides Harrison's characters. And the story will be engrossing.
Harrison himself will share his stories at a public reading May 9 at 4 p.m. in the auditorium of the old Wood River High School in Hailey. He'll be reading from two of his latest works: Off to the Side, a collection of autobiographical essays, and True North, a novel released just this spring. Following the reading, Harrison will be interviewed on stage by Marc Johnson, chairman of the Idaho Humanities Council.
Harrison began his career as a poet, but is best known for his fiction. His novels and novellas—including Wolf, A Good Day to Die, Farmer, Legends of the Fall, The Woman Lit by Fireflies and The Beast God Forgot to Invent—have been published in 22 languages, Many of them have become movies. In 2000, Harrison published his first children's book, The Boy Who Ran to the Woods, which is a semi-autobiographical account of his own childhood in northern Michigan. Beyond poetry and fiction, Harrison is also a screenwriter and gourmand who writes extensively about food and wine.
Harrison has often been compared to Hemingway and it is an easy comparison to make if one sticks with the outskirts of both writers' fiction. Like Hemingway's men—those "code heroes"—Harrison's men often move through a world of violence, adultery and sex with relative, almost discomforting, ease. Unlike the Hemingway man though, Harrison's men are often strong but also confused, hurling themselves in primitive fashion against a world they don't often understand, with their roles in it undefined. Often, it is the women in these works that try to save these lost men. In fact, one of the reoccurring themes in Harrison's work is that his main characters almost always need saving.
In his latest novel, True North, Harrison turns to his home country of Northern Michigan. Here, David Burkett, member of a famous family of Upper Peninsula timber barons, wrestles with his malevolent father and the family legacy of the desecration of nature. Caught up in a myriad of clashing social classes, family fallouts and crises, Burkett battles his family's demons over a period of several years. His despair often leads him into classic Harrison territory of nature, sex, religion and violence—and deep into the backwoods of Northern Michigan. And Harrison is often at his best when he's in the woods. Like some kind of sex-hungry transcendentalist, Harrison endows nature with the best salvation our primitive minds can imagine. "I view the natural world as the profoundest expression of the spirit," Harrison has said, and that is completely evident in this latest work, as Burkett seeks solace in the very woods his family is famous for destroying.
Tickets for the May 9 appearance in Hailey are available at Iconoclast Books and Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum and Read All About It in Hailey. Adult tickets for the Sunday event are $8 and student tickets are $5. The program is a benefit for the Hailey Cultural Center.