The river swimmer : novellas /

Two novellas provide insight into the human condition as a sixty-year-old art history academic embarks on an unexpected journey of discovery and a young farm boy is drawn to the water of Lake Michigan as an escape.

Main Author: Harrison, Jim, 1937-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York, NY : Grove Press, c2013.
Edition: 1st ed.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The two novellas that constitute Harrison's fine new collection are, as usual, quite different in scope and content. "The Land of Unlikeness" features Clive, 60 and divorced for two decades ("the starkest rupture in his life"), taking advantage of a forced three-month leave from his professorship at an Ivy League college in New York to care for his octogenarian mother, now watching birds on the family farm in northern Michigan. His younger sister, Margaret, who is embarking on a month-long European vacation, informs Clive that his old high school flame Laurette is back in town. Clive reflects on his rift with his alienated daughter, Sabrina, while he rekindles his artist's ambitions despite his thwarted early career as a painter. As Clive relates his rustic origins through frequent, wistful reminisces, he has a "crotch painting experience" with Laurette, who remains the "overwhelming love of his life." Margaret's return home from Europe coincides with Sabrina's visit for a friendly family reunion. The short title novella, a tall tale set in northern Michigan, finds 17-year-old Thad Love, a swimming prodigy, after getting injured in a fight with his girlfriend's father, improbably swimming over 100 miles to Chicago, where he meets a new girl who takes him to France, where Thad is more seriously injured swimming the Loire river. Harrison's (Legends of the Fall) novellas are each striking in their own ways, rich and satisfying. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

The prolific Harrison (Legends of the Fall) writes in an appealing tough-crusty fashion that has attracted almost a cult following. Fans (and others) will delight in the two novellas here, which effectively bookend human life. "The Land of Unlikeness" features a washed-up academic-he's divorced, estranged from his daughter, and quit of his beloved painting-who returns to Michigan to tend his ailing mother. While there, he reconnects with his artwork, his daughter, and an old flame in a tentative act of renewal as real and touching as a Hallmark movie is not. Of the Upper Peninsula farm boy featured in "The River Swimmer" (cheeky, putting his story second), the narrative says: "If there was a body of swimmable water nearby he would enter it. It was his nature." Thad's strokes take him past the dock where fetching Laurie sits (the beating he gets from her father propels the plot) and all the way down to Chicago. Through good and bad, a swimming scholarship, a terrible accident, and troublesome water babies (a magical touch told laconically), water defines Thad's life. VERDICT There's not a misstep in these thoughtful, beautifully crafted stories. Highly recommended.--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Though these two novellas feel slight in comparison with the best of the prolific author's novels, the ways in which they complement and contrast with each other attest to his range. Both The Land of Unlikeness and the title novella return Harrison (The Great Leader, 2011, etc.) to familiar territory, his native Michigan, with protagonists at very different stages of their lives. The autumnal opening novella finds a once-successful painter turned academic returning home to care for his mother, allowing his sister to experience some of the cosmopolitan life beyond Michigan that he has. Neither the author nor his protagonist takes himself overly seriously, though a sense of mortality pervades the story along with the possibility of renewal. "You're not going to live forever, Mister Bigshot," warns the mother, urging her son to reconcile with his daughter, who took sides after his divorce. He reunites with a boyhood love, rediscovers his passion for painting and reaffirms his engagement with a life that he has been watching from the sidelines: "It occurred to him that only purity of intent would save his own sorry soul. If he were to continue to paint he had to do so without the trace of the slumming intellectual toting around his heavy knapsack of ironies. He was well into his third act and further delay would be infamous." By contrast, the title story shows the first act of its protagonist's life reaching climax, as a 17-year-old boy who lives to swim (in rivers) experiences his sexual initiation, and the complications that follow, as he swims his way through a magical, rite-of-passage quest. "[H]umans are ill-prepared for the miraculous," he discovers. "It's too much of a jolt and the human soul is not spacious enough to deal with it." Ultimately, he realizes that "there was a world out there to swim through." Everyday epiphanies from a major author.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.