This week’s Reaper Report features, sadly, Jim Harrison, who dropped over dead at his desk a few days ago while working on a poem. The world is a less interesting place without him writing about it. I have to say, while I devoured his non-fiction, especially the stuff about food, and I was a fan of his poetry, I admired rather than loved his fiction. I knew it was good, certainly literature of a high order, and his descriptions of the natural world were lyrical and often beautiful, but I found his stories slow and his characters, even though they were often different, or not so different, versions of himself, not very compelling. I understand this is a lack of something in me, rather than a lack of something in his work.
I recently read a long interview with him, I can’t remember where, at the end of which he learns his wife of many years was dying, and he said that he didn’t know if he wanted, or could bear, to go on living without her. And he didn’t, so I guess he had made that decision.
His first famous book, Legends of the Fall, came out when I was under the influence of writers like Harrison who were putting out big, powerful books, Thomas McGuane, Robert Stone, strong books that impressed young men. I read Legends and understood why it was important, but I fell by the wayside when others, many others, followed. But now I’m an old man, not quite Harrison’s age but getting up there, so maybe it’s time to go back and read him again. Maybe I’m smarter now, wiser. Or maybe not. We'll see.
Here are some random quotes from some of the books, and random thoughts from Harrison. R.I.P.
“If you added it up, without her there was nothing--but with her even the simplest of gestures of walking a bird dog in the desert, or selecting the ingredients for a meal for two rather than one took on an ineffable charm.” Revenge
“His own life suddenly seemed repellently formal. Whom did he know or what did he know and whom did he love? Sitting on the stump under the burden of his father's death and even the mortality inherent in the dying, wildly colored canopy of leaves, he somehow understood that life was only what one did every day.... Nothing was like anything else, including himself, and everything was changing all of the time. He knew he couldn't perceive the change because he was changing too, along with everything else." The Man Who Gave Up His Name
“After dinner the Texan invited Cochran to accompany him to a whorehouse but he declined saying he'd feed, walk and water the horse.
'Strikes me you had a big day and some poontang might ease your mind.'
'Nope. Killed a man I hated today and I don't want to mix my pleasures. I want to lay in bed and think how good it felt.'
The Texan nodded and lit a cigar. He was no man's fool.”
Legends of the Fall
“Perhaps swimming was dancing in the water, he thought. To swim under lily pads seeing their green slender stalks wavering as you passed, to swim under upraised logs past schools of sunfish and bluegills, to swim through reed beds past wriggling water snakes and miniature turtles, to swim in small lakes, big lakes, Lake Michigan, to swim in small farm ponds, creeks, rivers, giant rivers where one was swept along easefully by the current, to swim naked alone at night when you were nineteen and so alone you felt like you were choking every waking moment, having left home for reasons more hormonal than rational; reasons having to do with the abstraction of the future and one's questionable place in the world of the future, an absurdity not the less harsh for being so widespread.” Legends of the Fall
“Death steals everything except our stories.”