"[Harrison's] books . . . are as grounded as Thoreau's in the particulars of American place--its rivers and thickets, its highways and taverns. . . . Quietly magnificent . . . Returning to Earth sharpens one's appetite for life." --Will Blythe, The New York Times Book Review (front-cover review)
Now in paperback, Jim Harrison's Returning to Earth has been universally praised, and is one of his most popular recent books. In Returning to Earth, Harrison has delivered a masterpiece--a tender, profound, and magnificent novel about life, death, and how it is sometimes possible to find redemption in unlikely places.
Donald is a middle-aged Chippewa-Finnish man, married to a white woman who renounced the wealth she was raised with, and father to two grown children. As Returning to Earth opens he is slowly dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. His condition deteriorating, he realizes no one alive will be able to pass on to his children their family history once he is gone. He begins dictating to his wife, Cynthia, stories he has never shared with anyone--as around him, his family struggles with how to lay him to rest with the same dignity with which he has always lived.
Over the course of the year following Donald's death, his loved ones struggle with how to let him go. His daughter begins studying Chippewa ideas of death for clues about her father's religion, and her mother is at loose ends for how to protect or guide her. Bereft of the family she created to escape the malevolent influence of her own father, Cynthia, along with her brother, David, an eccentric whose life mission is to prevent Mexican border-crossers from dying in transit, find, all these years later, that redeeming the past is not a lost cause.
Returning to Earth is a deeply moving book about origins and endings, how to make sense of loss, and how to live with honor for the dead. It is among the finest novels of Harrison's long, storied career, and confirms his standing as one of the most important American writers now working.
Harrison's novel of a dying man's retelling of his complex family history requires multiple readers to bring it to life. Svendsgaard, Porter, Weiner and Garcia all stick close to the rueful and world-weary, with long pauses and a subtle downturn of intonation marking their readings. They tag-team Harrison's prose, which shifts back and forth between the reminiscences of its protagonists, with Svendsgaard often leaping in to amend or second the stray thoughts of dying Donald Burkett. Weiner, as Donald, gives his reading just the right flat, clipped tone, each sentence ending abruptly and without warning. Donald's memories, in Weiner's rendering, are less the florid interior dramas of a romantically rendered past than the honest remembrance of what once was. The other readers follow Weiner's lead, echoing his spare performance ably and underscoring his fine work.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 09, 2007
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Excerpt from Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison
At midmorning on the third day these three big ravens stood right outside of the thicket looking in at me. Ravens don't stand on the ground unless they're sure of themselves. Deer and many other animals haven't figured out cars, but ravens have. Anyway, it was plain to me that these three ravens wanted to know why I was sitting there. I wasn't so sure myself but I told them that the first day I had had a real short vision that I was going to get sick and die. This was more than two years before I got diagnosed. I told them I wasn't too much bothered by my coming death because it's what happens to all living things sooner or later. Later would be better but it's not for me to decide. I also told these ravens about a funeral of
their kind I had seen a few miles inland from Whitefish Point a few years back. A real old raven had fallen slowly down through the branches of a hemlock tree over a period of two hours, grabbing hold of a branch now and then with his last strength, while around the bird about three dozen of his family were whirling. I heard the soft sound when he finally hit the ground. I got the feeling that one of the three ravens had been there as it was less than a hundred miles away. They showed no signs of leaving so I also told them of my vision of my mother and father sitting beside a creek with a sleeping bear beside them as if it were a pet dog. My mother and father looked wonderful and they said, "Don't be afraid to come