The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison

Just finished The River Swimmer, with the growling Harrisonian prose nosing around sensuous experiences of outdoor activities, heavy drinking, sex, and the ambiguous attraction to, and attainment of, high culture and money. There’s always the discriminating palate in Harrison, and, of course, the horses that enter. The second novella in this volume is a spiritual and magical story of a young man obsessed with the waterways of the world. A human being as an amphibious river swimmer, and a creature of the water, is an attractive, mythological fictional dream. The old writer, paradoxically refined and vulgar, like someone’s delightful old uncle, imagines a return to the element from which we all emerged. As always there is  humanity and morality to inspire, enough grumbling and barbs to entertain, and, of course, the horses.


He himself was quite spiritual in an eccentric way based on all of his reading in the life sciences and astronomy wherein everything seemed to be too monstrously intricate to be accidental whether it was avian vision and migration or the sheer fact of ninety billion galaxies. One could scarcely be cynical about this despite the absurd behavior of Evangelicals and Mormons or the history of the Catholic Church, the minimalization of the moral life. A history teacher he mourned who had been fired for too many DUIs said that a common thread of genius ran through Mozaret, Caravaggio, and Gaugin that was divine whatever that in itself meant…He had learned early not to try to formalize his interesting perceptions or they would stagnate. All of this certainly was not enough to pass for religion but he didn’t care partly because he was still young.  p. 165

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