Jim Harrison Brown Dog

Jim Harrison

Kirsten’s literary diet consists mainly of novels. She plows through them at night. I often wish that I was the kind of reader who could live on novels alone. I enjoy novels when I read them, but I need essays, poems, criticism, short fiction, history, nature books, biography and theology more than I need novels. My family knows I like the Michigan fiction writer Jim Harrison, however. I got his Brown Dog novellas for Christmas.

Brown Dog: Novellas Cover
Harrison sets a full table of everything a drifting American male living in the northern woods might have or want in life. The food and sex and outdoor experiences just keep coming. Harrison’s characters are always on the move; they sit still for dinner, sex and horses. Throughout there is joy and humor right next to futile ambition and violence, in settings of vigorous poverty.  An unreformed carnalist, Harrison’s narrations break into fine spiritual moments, as when in the course of a long hike through the woods one steps into a clearing.

In the spirit of The American Scholar  with its ten favorite sentences from literature here are sentences copied from Jim Harrison’s Brown Dog novellas.

… my favorite thing is just plain walking in the woods. I can do it days on end without getting tired of it. I mix this up a bit with fishing and hunting. Of course I like to make love and drink, that goes without saying.   (Brown Dog) p. 44

Grandpa bought me a horse once for twenty bucks and you could hardly ever catch him, but you could see him at dawn and in the evening from the kitchen window, way out at the end of the field hanging out with the deer. p. 54

A good share of his pleasure under his leafy blanket came from his grandfather’s notion that you had to make the best of it wherever you were, and throughout the long hike from Cucamonga he had been pleasantly boggled by all the colors of the people he had seen who must have come from many lands. Way back in school he had never been quite taken with the idea of America as a boiling pot, partly because his grandpa had used a boiling pot to scald pigs at butchering in order to scrape off the hair. Despite his hard knocks he felt a specific pleasure in all he had seen, especially along the busy part of Sunset Strip as he had continued heading west late in the afternoon.  there had been literally hundreds of beautiful women though they tended to be uniformly quite thin. Delmore liked to say that you should avoid women who don’t enjoy their food because that means they have real problems, but even he would have had his head turned by this plentitude. p. 177

She cooked up the pike and they ate it with bread, salt, and some elderberry wine she had made the autumn before. She sang along with the country station from Ishpeming and was particularly good at duets with George Jones and Merle Haggard.  p. 386

A wide streak of the dour Lutheran ethos of the Great North said that it is always darkest before it gets even darker. His last hope was to get home and have a life that the ancient Confucians thought was the best life, one in which nothing happens. p. 388

There was nothing quite like the softness of a horse’s nose which it would sometimes press against his bare neck. He talked a lot to the horse which seemed to like it. Grandpa pointed out that horses always knew where they were so if the horse wanted to go home he would.  p. 449

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