The Sunday Times of London has called Jim Harrison "a writer with immortality in him" and The Washington Times has written that "Jim Harrison ought to be considered a national treasure." In The Beast God Forgot to Invent, this American master gives us three novellas that sparkle with the generous humanity and seasoned wisdom of his vision.
These are stories of humans and beasts, of culture and wildness, of men driven crazy by longing and of men who dream they are becoming bears. In "The Beast God Forgot to Invent," a man near the end of his life becomes part of an odd band of caretakers for a younger man whose brain has been damaged in a motorcycle accident, the civilization shaken out of him. Watching over this unmanned man, the hero becomes mindful of his own mortality and excess of civility. In "Westward Ho," Brown Dog, a Michigan Indian, wanders the wilds of Los Angeles, tracking the ersatz Native activist with whom he fled the police in Michigan and who's now disappeared with his bearskin. Ogling girls, sleeping in the botanic garden, and working as a driver to a drunk screenwriter, he eventually comes face-to-face with his ex-friend and with the difference between the world he's been visiting and the world to which he's going home. And in "I Forgot to Go to Spain," an aging "alpha canine," author of three dozen Bioprobes--hundred page disposable biographies--takes dinner with a woman to whom he was married for nine days in his overheated youth. Reminding him of his youthful dream of living in Spain as a poet, she forces him to examine who he's become, whether he owns his life or it him.
Infused with Jim Harrison's sly humor and quiet wisdom, these are stories with the expansive grace of the American landscape, urban and rural. This book is a resonant journey through the geography of masculinity from a writer in his prime.
Poet, essayist and novelist Harrison (Dalva, etc.) has long been acclaimed for his portrayal of human appetitesAsexual, artisticAand his descriptions of Michigan's wilderness. In this collection of three witty novellas, he dissects two high-strung, slightly lecherous intellectuals, men who cannot tear themselves away from their books or work, who drink and gourmandize to blunt the sense of waste that taints their silver years. Harrison treats these characters with empathy but, as always, he contrasts them unfavorably to more instinctual, thus happier, men. The title novella, which begins slowly but is the most affecting of the trio, is narrated by Norman Arnz, a wealthy 67-year-old book dealer who lives in a cabin in northern Michigan. Norman's peaceful retirement is disturbed when his friendship with a virile, brain-damaged man exacerbates the feeling that he has lived his life too timidly. Similarly, the protagonist of "I Forgot to Go to Spain" is a 55-year-old pulp biographer who has left behind the romantic ideals of his graduate school days and gone on to earn millions compiling the sort of books that "fairly litter bookstores, newsstands [and] novelty counters at airports." When he recognizes that compulsive work habits have deprived him of his dreams, he hopelessly tries to reignite an old flame (only to find she prefers her gardener). Sandwiched between these two novellas comes "Westward Ho," finally starring a man who is content in his own skin: Brown Dog, an easygoing woodsman who has appeared in two of Harrison's previous tales. This time the Native American from Michigan brings "real emotion" to Hollywood when he maneuvers his way among movie insiders in order to recover a stolen bear rug. Throughout the volume, Harrison's intricate symbolism and scathing observations of urban foibles, his sly humor and vibrant language remind readers that he is one of our most talented chroniclers of the masculine psyche, intellectual or not. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 05, 2001
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Excerpt from The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison
The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense. The discounted sociologist Jared Schmitz, who was packed off from Harvard to a minor religious college in Missouri before earning tenure when a portion of his doctoral dissertation was proven fraudulent, stated that in a culture in the seventh stage of rabid consumerism the peripheral always subsumes the core, and the core disappears to the point that very few of the citizenry can recall its precise nature. Schmitz had stupidly confided to his lover, a graduate student, that he had in fact invented certain French and German data, and when he abandoned her for a Boston toe dancer this graduate student ratted on him. This is neither specifically here nor there to our story other than to present an amusing anecdote on the true nature of academic life. Also, of course, the poignant message of a culture spending its time as it spends its money; springing well beyond the elements of food, clothes, and shelter into the suffocating welter of the unnecessary that has become necessary.
So what? This is the question that truly haunts us, coming as it does at the nether end of any statement of consequence beyond the moment, as if grave matters must prove their essential worth in a competitive arena and not demanded of the meaningless activities that saturate human lives.
But I must move on because this is actually a statement offered to a coroner's inquest in Munising, Michigan, the county seat of Alger County in the Upper Peninsula, concerning the death of a young man of my acquaintance, Joseph Lacort. Locally he was known as just plain Joe, and he drowned thirty miles out beyond the harbor mouth near Caribou Shoals in Lake Superior. Everyone thinks he was looking for his fat Labrador retriever, Marcia, who swam pointlessly after ducks and geese and there was a large flock of Canadian geese in the harbor that day. But then what sort of madman would swim all evening and all night looking for a dog? Joe would. Myself, I think Joe committed suicide, though I consider this a detail mostly pertinent to myself as his remaining relatives doubtless feel well shut of this troublesome creature. But then the word 'suicide' is a banality that doesn't fit this extraordinary situation. Perhaps he felt summoned by the mystical creatures he thought he had seen.
Before I forget, yes I do forget who I am, no longer a matter of particular interest to me, my name is Norman Arnz, and I'm sixty-seven years old. I'm semi-retired and from Chicago where I worked in commercial real estate and as a rare-book dealer. Not that it matters but I'm the only one in my larger family, none of whom I have any contact with--we share a mutual disregard--who readapted the family name 'Arnz' after it was changed to 'Arns' during the First World War when the Boche were a plague. My mother was mixed Scandinavian, so I'm a northern European mongrel.
I've spent summers in my cabin my entire life since my father bought the property while a mining engineer for Cleveland Cliffs in Marquette, Michigan, early in the Great Depression which has now filtered down into millions of little ones in our inhabitants. Excuse this modest joke, but then any product involved with depression has done very well on the market for those dedicated to this otiose poker game. When some clod begins a sentence with 'My broker ...' I immediately turn my back.
I told the coroner I couldn't come to Munising because of failing health when, in fact, I avoid the village because of a melancholy love affair with a barmaid a decade ago in the last deliquescent flowering of my hormones. It was a love affair to me but a well-paying job to Gretel, not her real name of course, but then our miserable affair was public knowledge in Munising.
I took the precaution of phoning Chicago the other day to determine if whether Joe's death was suicide or accidental had any bearing on the insurance money due his mother. It doesn't. She's an attractive woman in her mid-fifties, deeply involved in her third abysmal marriage, this time to a logger over in Iron Mountain. I knew her first slightly in the sixties--she grew up here--when she ran off with a nitwit Coast Guardsman who became Joe's father for a brief time.
Before I get started I must say that the end of Joe's life was his business. Swimming north in those cold, choppy waters I can imagine his croaking laughter, the only laughter he was capable of after his accident some two years before. The aftereffect of the motorcycle accident was called a traumatic brain injury, or a closed-head injury as there was no penetration by the beech tree he ran into while quite drunk.