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The River Swimmer Paperback – 23 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 198 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press (23 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802122205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802122209
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 774,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Praise for "The River Swimmer" In his fiction, especially, [Harrison has] hit a deep groove. His meditations on mortality are blended with an antic wit. . . . Mr. Harrison s new book, "The River Swimmer" . . . contains some of the best writing of his career. Both novellas burn brightly with what he calls, at one point, unmitigated cupidity, not for money or possessions but for life and experience. . . . He is among the most indelible American novelists of the last hundred years . . . Mr. Harrison contains multitudes; like a good rabbit liver pate, there is a lot of him to spread around. . . . If "The River Swimmer" is any indication, he remains at the height of his powers. Dwight Garner, "The New York Times" Trenchant and visionary . . . Harrison is a writer of the body, which he celebrates as the ordinary, essential and wondrous instrument by which we measure the world. Without it, there is no philosophy. And with it, of course, philosophy can be a rocky test. . . . I could feel Jim Harrison grinning . . . in his glorious novella "The River Swimmer." Ron Carlson, "The New York Times Book Review" [Harrison] has crafted gorgeous and wry sentences out of the quiet raging against the indignities and infirmities of age. And, in Clive, he has created another indelible and soulful rascal. . . . Harrison is one of our greatest voices of aging both clumsily and well and of teasing out hope amid sentimentality and dread. Ian Crouch, "The Boston Globe " You can t escape your true nature, Jim Harrison s two new novellas assert. . . . Here, he s achieved a mood that approximates in modern terms the tranquility of Shakespeare s late romances. The existential uncertainties that always animate Harrison s fiction are not so much resolved as accepted for what they are: the basic fabric of existence, from which we pluck as much happiness as we can. Wendy Smith, "The Washington Post" [Harrison s] latest book of novellas . . .deepens and broadens his already openhearted and smart-minded sense of the way we live now, and what we might do to improve it. . . . Harrison [is] the reigning master of the [novella] form. . . . I have to say that Harrison has been hard put to better his personal best, "Legends of the Fall." . . . But with the lead piece in this new book, the autumnal novella he calls "The Land of Unlikeness," he comes quite close. . . . The new novella is . . . no less intense, as it enriches and enlarges an emotion-charged period in the life of Clive, a divorced Midwestern painter-turned-critic. . . . What does the male version of quality of life really mean? Something like this, something like this. And female readers who don t give over some time to studying Harrison s version of it will be as foolish as the men. Alan Cheuse, NPR Ever since writing "Legends of the Fall" 30 years ago, Jim Harrison has produced a steady stream of novellas demonstrating what a writer can do in approximately 100 pages. The trick to a good novella is to give the same richness of story, action and characters as one finds in a full-length novel. At its best, it is a novel shorn of fat, full of story. Steve Novak, "Minneapolis Star Tribune" Tales of manhood and magic . . . Harrison addresses with insight and humor such themes as the human relationship to the natural world, the powers of sexuality and violence, the uses of art, the line between sanity and madness, and the shadow of mortality. Colette Bancroft, "Tampa Bay Times" Exquisite . . . While the first novella is about the constancy of the past to reassert itself in our lives, the second focuses on the inescapable currents that bear us into the future. . . . The two novellas masterfully treat themes that will be familiar to Harrison s readers the disjunction between contemporary life and rural terrain, our inability to escape the past, the vapidity of urbanity. The writing is sparse but powerful. . . . this diptych of a collection is a joy. Ted Hart, "Kansas City Star" Refreshing . . . "The River Swimmer" is Harrison at his crusty best. Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness (online) Jim Harrison is a master of the novella form. Steve Byrne, "Detroit Free Press" The ways in which [the two novellas] complement and contrast with each other attests to [Harrison s] range. . . . Everyday epiphanies from a major author. "Kirkus Reviews" [A] fine new collection . . .Harrison s novellas are each striking in their own ways, rich and satisfying. "Publishers Weekly" Harrison is one of America s great literary treasures; his rugged, beautifully tough-minded works help define America and its wide-open spaces, and his readers form almost a cult. Here, he will delight them. Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"" --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Jim Harrison is the author of thirty-six books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. He divides his time between Montana and Arizona.

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By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 14 Feb. 2014
Format: Hardcover
... in terms of their quality.

Until a few months ago, I had never heard of Jim Harrison. Somehow he was comfortably inhabiting one of the lacuna in my educational development. Seems that he is even a more famous writer in France than in America, and there is something to be said for that; the French can often provide another perspective on those who are not the particular favorites of our own cultural and literary establishments. As my first Harrison work, I decided to try this recently issued book.

And I loved the first of the two novellas, entitled "The Land of Unlikeness." The protagonist is Clive, who grew up on a farm in northern Michigan, and has come home for a few weeks to take care of his aging mother while the normal "caregiver," his sister, takes her first European holiday. Clive is 60, and has lived many years in Manhattan. He went there as an aspiring young artist, and somewhere on the way to middle age, he realized that he not only failed in his marriage, he also couldn't make it as an artist. He subscribes to a familiar dictum: if you can't do, teach! He not only teaches, but is an art critic and appraiser, and makes a reasonable living.

His mother is still spry, and enjoys bird watching. His one-time high school almost sweetheart, Laurette, lives just down the road, as she did in the days of yore. Everyone is divorced, so the games can begin again, if there is the desire. Clive also has an estranged daughter, and patching up their relationship is also possible. Harrison takes this mixture of characters, and plays out the themes of aging, family relationships, the pull of the places of one's birth, a possible rekindling of the relationship of the one "who got away," and does it with insight and style.
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By Pietro Passalacqua on 21 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sublime. Great timing, quality, wrapping, object arrived as clean & timely as a ruby. Kudos. Keep up the good work.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 95 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Two novellas: an aging man and a young man ponder life 8 Jan. 2013
By TChris - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you've read Jim Harrison you know what to expect (gentle humor poking fun at the hapless male) and what not to expect (commas) from his writing. The River Swimmer is a short volume consisting of two novellas. The first addresses the familiar theme of Harrison's recent work: the aging man's need to renew his life, his eternal struggle to understand women, and his slightly ridiculous response to sexual desire. The second concerns a young man who endeavors to swim through the bewildering array of obstacles and opportunities that life presents.

In "The Land of Unlikeness," a man must choose between "the world's idea of success" and his love of creating art. Twenty years divorced and three years estranged from his daughter, Clive still hasn't gotten his life together. A former artist who abandoned painting for the financial security of academia, Clive is taking an involuntary leave of absence following an unfortunate encounter with an Art Tart. At his sister's insistence, he is using the time to visit his elderly bird-watching mother at his childhood home in Michigan. Since this is the mother who, years earlier, made a speech at dinner that ended with "You failed us, son," it's easy to understand why Clive doesn't want to go home again. Clive's thoughts are occupied by missed opportunities and mild regrets, some of which pertain to a childhood flame who still lives in town. Still, in his less sullen moments, Clive displays the guarded optimism that is common in Harrison's characters: "He had the happy thought that he had zero percent financing on the rest of his life because no one more than nominally cared except himself. He might be going mad as a hatter but it hadn't been that bad so far." At the age of sixty, well into life's third act, can Clive stop "toting around his heavy knapsack of ironies" and find a way to allow "a little light ... to peek into his beleaguered soul"?

"The River Swimmer" tells an offbeat story. Thad grew up on an island in the middle of a river. When he wasn't working on the family farm, he was swimming. "If there were indeed water spirits they had a firm hold on him like love eventually does on young men, an obsessional disease of sorts." After brawling with Friendly Frank, his girlfriend's father, Thad swims the hundred miles from Muskegon to Chicago. He hooks up with a girl he meets along the way. To Thad's embarrassment, the girl and her wealthy father become involved in his family drama when Friendly Frank's employees put Thad's father in the hospital, an outgrowth of the confrontation between Thad and Frank. Thad doesn't want to hate Friendly Frank, but "surely part of the greatest evil of evil men is that they make you hate them." Soon he finds himself back on the farm, in the company of Frank's daughter, the wealthy man's daughter, and another girl he's bedded. Women and employers and swimming coaches have plans for Thad. With his whole life ahead of him, Thad doesn't want to be pinned down like a butterfly in a collection. As Thad transitions to adulthood, he is desperate to retain his freedom, his sense of adventure, his profound link to water. Yet in the end, he learns that life can't be planned.

Both stories are populated with quirky characters. The earthy characters in "The River Swimmer" are particularly engaging. As always, Harrison's writing is filled with sharp insight as he gently dissects his characters, exposing faults and revealing quintessential goodness. It would be difficult to read these stories without a continual smile, although "The River Swimmer" turns out to be the more serious of the two. I would give 4 stars to "The Land of Unlikeness" and 5 to "The River Swimmer," for a combined verdict of 4 1/2 stars.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Always a good read! 17 Mar. 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Disclosure: I live in Michigan, I've read most of Jim Harrison's fiction and essays, and I've heard him read several times. Basically, I keep coming back to his writing because I very much like it. Why? I think that his protagonists seem very honest. They are not supermen, but people created to be as complex as someone you'd meet on a northern Michigan street, men who are bright, articulate, and introspective, but who sometimes make very human mistakes. More specifically, his heroes are typically (but not always) middle-aged men who love food, art, travel, nature, and women. Harrison can, in one paragraph, beautifully discuss French cuisine and the Impressionists; in the next, he can have his protagonist guiltily and graphically lusting after a long-ago love. Simply, any writer who has his main character dissecting and reviling a bullying, two-faced, materialistic "giant of capitalism," and (in an earlier book) flushing his own cell phone down the toilet, resonates with me. Harrison--as befitting a writer who has endured poverty in his earlier years--is sensitive to inequalities of economic class, or the "haves" and the "have-nots,"--a dichotomy well-represented in northern Michigan.
More to the point, the first novella in this collection is absorbing, well-paced, and good. The second, "The River Swimmer," contains some of the best Harrison writing I've read: The story is detailed, well-paced, "builds" steadily, and is written in something, I think, like "magical realism." I think Harrison takes some chances in this narration, and it pays off with a story I'll not soon forget. Like it and want to read something else by Jim Harrison? I suggest A Woman lit by Fireflies (novella), The English Major (a recent novel), and Off to the Side (essays). Good luck and welcome to the club!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Book Review Harrison, Jim (2013). The River Swimmer. New York: Grove. 14 Jan. 2013
By MGH - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There are many among us who think that anything Jim Harrison writes is worth reading. His most recent book, The River Swimmer, proves this the point. It is fictional writing at its best that is bound to capture the interest of readers who value creative plots, beautiful writing, and a shared wonder of the world.

The River Swimmer contains two novellas, The Land of Unlikeness and The River Swimmer. Like many of Harrison's works, they are stories about unusual rites of passage that are both private and social. Strong but human characters struggle through these passages toward ultimate redemption, making messes as they go.

In The Land of Unlikeness, Harrison writes of a former artist and professor whose life is in shambles. By returning to his place of origin to visit his mother, he slowly forges for himself the rite of passage that allows him to rediscover the happiness of painting he had known as a child. Grounding himself once again in the long-lost land, he remembers his own identity that had fed his early creative efforts. He again becomes a careful observer of the landscape as he redefines the meaning of art itself.

In the second novella, The River Swimmer, Harrison somehow turns magical realism into what seems like logical and natural phenomena. The story's central character is a young man whose goal in life is to swim many rivers under various conditions. Against such a simple seeming goal, the world conspires to build obstacles. He learns quickly that easy offers of freedom often come at a cost of being controlled by others. Overcoming these obstacles helps form the plot of the story, even as the main character strives to be the swimmer he wants to be. The rite of passage here becomes one of finding a way to practice what is basically a solo activity --- swimming rivers that are no more dangerous than the social world around him. Ultimately, passage comes from being able to swim in both environments.

Harrison writes with a beautiful, haunting grace that reflects his insights and observations of the world. The River Swimmer gives the reader a powerful example of how one goes about the task of putting everything except the kitchen sink into a fictional story and making it work. The reader is left wanting more, asking, "Where is the sink?" Harrison is no doubt using the sink to mix his next batch of characters and plots. His many fans already wait to see what is next.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Troubled characters (4.5*s) 26 Jan. 2013
By J. Grattan - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This latest effort from the author will be more than recognizable as there are many of his usual elements: a reverence for nature and uncertain characters attempting to cope with dilemmas in their lives. In the first story, Clive, now sixty, unhappy as an art history professor in NYC, is returning to Michigan to aid his elderly mother and reengage with a barely submerged past. In the second offering, it is seventeen-year-old Thad, who has an almost mythological connection with the river, being able to swim miles at a time, and mysterious creatures therein, faces real-world forces that will most assuredly tear him away from his first love.

The author demonstrates repeatedly an impeccable ability to capture what is on the mind of older, intellectual guys with rough, raunchy edges. Clive is basically fed up with the pretence of job titles and prestige. He simply wants to paint; in particular he wants to paint his sexy high school friend Laurette in a somewhat compromising position.

Thad is the more sympathetic character; he is so new to the world. He simply has not the worldly experience of Clive to fully comprehend a series of events that are uprooting his life. Unfortunately, tragedy stalks the attractive teenager.

As usual, the book is easy reading. Plot is minimal. Clive's travel and wanderings are merely excuses for much reflection on life and past loves. Clive's story ends a bit abruptly, but he will make it. Thad - we will worry about him.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Coming of Age and Coming to Age in Michigan 28 Jan. 2013
By Linda Robinson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
One novella introduces us to Clive, failed artist turned art historian and lecturer, 60ish, returning to the family's Michigan farmhouse so his sister can take a trip to Europe, while Clive watches over their semi-blind bird-watching mother. Clive is available for this duty because of an unfortunate event involving yellow paint, although a palette of artistic mishaps follow him home to Michigan. The River Swimmer drops us in the water with Thad, born on an island farm in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. HIs home and his heart are cocooned by river water. At 17, Thad has choices to make that include dry land and real people; two elements Thad has little experience of: his realm is the river, all the earth's rivers. The boy Thad grapples with choices minus the benefit of long experience. The man Clive struggles with coalescing those decades into life that remains for him. Wants and dreams wash over the rocks of reality and duty for both men. Clive reaches for shore. Thad strokes for open water. The two novellas are a brilliant duet, conducted with Harrison's granite prose and the channeled power of Michigan water. There is a paragraph in The Land of Unlikeness that took my breath away. And it is difficult to breathe through the entirety of The River Swimmer. Excellent work by a master storyteller.
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