The ancient minstrel Novellas

Jim Harrison, 1937-2016

Book - 2016

"About an aging writer in Montana who's at the stage of his career when his work is increasingly discussed in terms of his legacy. He indulges his lifelong dream of raising pigs, struggles to write the "big novel" he's rashly promised his editor, and attempts to rekindle the long marriage that has sustained him."--[Cover]

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Short stories
New York : Grove [2016]
Main Author
Jim Harrison, 1937-2016 (-)
Physical Description
255 pages ; 22 cm
  • Ancient minstrel
  • Eggs
  • Case of the howling Buddhas.
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* The enduring master of numerous literary forms, Harrison delivers one of his loosest and most playful books yet. In three stylistically varying novellas, he returns to his customary subjects: Montana and the Midwest, womanizing and boozing, the writing life and rural living, aging and facetiously himself. The shortest and goofiest tale even revisits a familiar character, retired detective Sunderson from The Big Seven (2015) and The Great Leader (2011), whose age is catching up to his insatiable lust for younger women. Hired on to investigate a Buddhist howler-monkey cult, Sunderson wrestles with ethics while courting a teenage neighbor. In a tamer but more sprawling novella, a Montana farmhand who partially spent her youth in England during WWII recounts her passion for chickens and her vain attempts to find love or, more urgently, get pregnant. And in the delightfully digressive title story here the most autobiographical a writer seems to have hit an artistic wall as he turns 70, tending to some piglets to distract himself from his marital woes and the manuscript he owes his editor. The unnamed and restless narrator, like Harrison himself, refuses to allow death's imminence to keep him from living fully, embodying this witty and inspired collection.--Fullmer, Jonathan Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Though this latest collection of novellas is one of his slimmer efforts, Harrison (Brown Dog) still has one of the most companionable voices in American letters. The first two entries in this collection revolve around animal husbandry-an aging writer in the grip of a "pig trance" and a woman's lifelong "chicken obsession." The rangy title novella tells the story of "America's best-loved geezer," a figure very much like Jim Harrison, who is looking back on his "50-year slavery to language." Restless, losing his once prodigious libido, and beset by recurring nightmares, the narrator impulsively decides to raise pigs, a late-life crisis manifested in a desire to become the "prince of free-range pork." It's a loose, low-key reminiscence that affords some amusing glimpses into the writer's psyche. In "Eggs," Catherine, a woman living by herself on a Montana farm, finds herself in thrall to a biological impulse to reproduce. Catherine is a strange, independent, and phlegmatic heroine whose story steadily accrues emotional weight as we learn about her alcoholic father, her unhinged brother, her harrowing experience in London during the Blitz, and her romance with a wounded British soldier. Harrison revives his Detective Sunderson in "The Case of the Howling Buddhas." Now retired but no less libidinous, "an old boy on the loose again," Sunderson is enlisted to look into a mountebank cult leader, though the real drama involves the detective's illegal dalliance with a 15-year-old girl. This last novella is also the weakest, the shaggy-dog mystery fitting uneasily with the salacious, and not particularly convincing, erotic plot. Agent: Steve Sheppard, Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLC. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An ascended master of the form returns to the novella, turning in three very different pieces with autobiographical elements in common. "To be honest, which often I am not," Harrison (The Big Seven, 2014, etc.) writes in a telling phrase early on, announcing good intentions while reserving the prerogatives of invention. Yet, the lead of the title story, minstrel and mongrel alike, is someone very like Harrison, challenged of eye but not of vision and a trencherman and drinker of formidable appetites and no real interest in scaling back to better fit his advancing years. The big book he has been promising his publisher is slow to emerge, just as his abilities at 70 are beginning to show their age, causing him to ponder the prospects of using performance-enhancement pills and of quitting the writerly world to raise pigs. He settles for trying to write poems instead, inconclusively; as Harrison writes, "Life is short on conclusions and that's why it's often a struggle to end a poem." Some of Harrison's lines are throwaways, though a less accomplished writer would love to have written them; but in the main, he writes with his customary rough grace and bodhisattva wisdom, whether comically treating sexual improprieties or reflecting deeply on the meaning of life. As with Dalva, Harrison is skilled at writing from a woman's point of view, and his second story, set in Montana and across the water in England, concerns a woman, Catherine, who likes nothing better than twitting her moneyed neighbors; she, too, shares biographical points with Harrison, from a love for steak to a fondness for Key West. The closing story, "The Case of the Howling Buddhas," is a touch short for a novella and slighter than the other pieces, a Pynchon-esque goof involving one Detective Sunderson (of The Great Leader fame) who's on the trail of some bad actors inside a cult-y sangha but is never too busy not to ogle the long legs of a neighbortrademark Harrison territory, in other words. Grand entertainments all and a pleasure. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.