I'm glad I found this book. You know a writer has finally made it when "they" start publishing books ABOUT him, eh?
Jim is a great writer, poetic in a totally accessible way. Don't like poetry? Read his and you'll be a convert.
Jim is a GREAT conversationalist. This book lets you into that world for the first time. This is a compilation of all his major interviews along with some rare ones. As the preface says, there is some repetition in them, but it wears well and shows what is important to Jim.
(I bought the "True Bones" book as well: the bio-pics of the longhair 70's days is great, the cover art is great, but the academic writing style is unreadable. It's a PhD paper in hardcover. Caution flag unless you're fluent in artspeak.)
In "Conversations" we get great insights into the guy and the game. How many top writers today hammer at MFA's like he does? He's pretty honest about Hollywood as well. Hey, his pals there helped him when others wouldn't. He's up front about that and about the banality of the place as well. At the same time, he gets high on the power, the talent and the $1000 dinners. Who wouldn't? He keeps the books as open as anyone.
We have to admit in this country that if someone wrote the actual literature that would keep our culture alive THEY WOULD STARVE TO DEATH. I think Jim is very clear about this. I'm not sure how many other writers who 'made it' are as candid. But he's a 'flyover' and values candor like so many here do.
American literature isn't dead. There are writers out there who have picked up the ball and have been moving it further all these years since Jim was in his prime. They just haven't seen print yet due to the MFA stranglehold. But not for long! "Flyover" spirit lives in the Underground Literary Alliance...The ULA is the first group to do something about the racket and tragedy that Jim laments about in his interviews.
For such a huge talent, I hate to say anything at all detracting, but we fans have our rights. I have one complaint: Harrison lets some of the obligatory Hollywood vibes into his books. It's the "old geezer gets the hot babes" thing. But Jim has always been up front about his need to pay the bills and play the ONLY game that writers are allowed to play if they don't want to teach or starve: the game with Hollywood. It's either feast or famine. (The ULA is changing this!)
Another thing is the jet-set stuff. His characters and even his memoirs tend to be about idle rich guys causing trouble in fancy and rustic places. His rich writer friends from the 70's often used the same plot. It's fine enough, but runs a little short on relevance. The rich aren't like you and me. They aren't even like themselves much of the time, if you consider the theme of confusion in their work. Yeah, I know it's silly: take out the cross-generation sex and jet-setting and what's left? (The Michigan woods all alone?) Where's the tension? Well, that's for the writer to worry about. : ) Jim's dualism of cabin/mansion, stew/caviar is of course like catnip even while a part of it bugs me. He's marvelously joyous about his fancy dinners and famous friends so I'm happy to call it art and not fret about it. He sure is more candid than others about this kind of thing. What else is he supposed to do really. Well, on a different vein: use that bully pulpit more. He's always railed against the MFAs but with his clout now it would stick.