With Jim Harrison, you always know that you'll be reading something that is well off the beaten track, so to speak. He writes for himself, not to please a segment of the population. With most of his work, you feel that you're getting deep within a person's soul. The English Major is a bit more "escapist" than some of his deeper and darker (in the sense of unsettling, not supernatural, although there may be a surreal feel) novels. The story is about a man recently in his 60's whose wife of almost 40 years has booted him out for another man. Cliff leaves his farm in Michigan on an Odyssey (using caps seems appropriate) across many of the western US states. He takes with him an old jigsaw puzzle, and as he leaves each state he "sacrifices" that piece of the puzzle.
Cliff's journey takes him to Wisconsin, Minnestota, and eventually into Montana. On this early part of the trip he is joined by a former student Marybelle, who will be dropped off at her husband's digging site in Montana. Marybelle is a cell-phone addict to an extent that rivals Cliff's ex-wife's appetite for junk food. Cliff wants open spaces, Marybelle wants nearby cell phone towers. Harrison's great strength lies in the depth of his characterizations. You seem to always get a good understanding and appreciation of everyone--evn the waitresses in the small cafes along the way. There are wonderful descriptions of Cliff's mixed reactions to Marybelle--the sex, the incessant cellphone chatter, whether it is better to have companionship or quiet solitary communions with nature (Cliff also enjoys fishing).
Cliff's son lives in San Francisco, and always has more advice for him than Cliff wants, the ex-wife wants to see him as well, and, of course, Marybelle and her cell phone intrudes. Harrison's novels are mostly about change, about introspection, about discovering yourself. You may well find youself thinking about Homer's Odyssey: are there parallels? deliberate parallels? or is this totally irrelevant? It's a strange voyage, full of character and characters, and a very engaging story.
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