A wrenchingly funny cross-country novel from the critically acclaimed author of Returning to Earth, The Summer He Didn't Die, and True North
"Harrison has been prowling the literary edges for four decades now, stubbornly eluding the snares of critical reduction . . . Harrison's wit [is] caustic, coarse, and utterly charming . . . you hardly notice the fervid intelligence clicking away in the background." --Jonathan Miles, Salon
Jim Harrison has been called "a writer with immortality in him" by London's Sunday Times and The New York Times Book Review has written that "[his] storytelling instincts are nearly flawless." Harrison's last novel, Returning to Earth, was one of his most praised in years, hailed by The Plain Dealer as "an artistic achievement worthy of Faulkner." Now Harrison gives us The English Major, a wryly funny novel that sparkles with the generous humanity of his vision.
"It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn't." With these words, Jim Harrison begins a riotous, moving novel that sends a sixty-something man, divorced and robbed of his farm by a late-blooming real estate shark of an exwife, on a road trip across America, armed with a childhood puzzle of the United States and a mission to rename all the states and state birds to overcome the banal names men have given them. Cliff 's adventures take him through a whirlwind affair with a former student from his high school-teacher days twenty-some years before, to a "snake farm" in Arizona owned by an old classmate; and to the highoctane existence of his son, a big-time movie producer who has just bought an apartment over the Presidio in San Francisco.
The English Major is the map of a man's journey into--and out of--himself, and it is vintage Harrison--reflective, big-picture American, and replete with wicked wit.
In Harrison's funny, spirited latest, Cliff, a 60-year-old former Michigan high school teacher, bids adieu to his inherited family farm (lost in a shady real estate deal); his wife, Vivian, of 38 years (who has been cheating on him and orchestrated the deal) and dear departed dog Lola (the truest woman in my life); and sets off on a yearlong, countrywide jag. Armed with his childhood jigsaw puzzle mapping the 50 states, Cliff endearingly tosses out a puzzle piece every time he crosses state lines, reminisces and tries (with as much humor as he can muster) to make the best of his shattered existence. The miles between Minnesota and Montana play host to a melodramatically drawn-out love/hate romantic triumph with Marybelle, a married former student. She stalks Cliff well into a visit with his affluent gay son, Robert, flourishing in San Francisco. As more calamity ensues in Arizona, New Mexico and Montana, the possibility of reconciliation with Vivian looms. With a plot left deliberately thin, Harrison is consistently witty and engaging as he drives home his timeless theme: that change can be beneficial at any point in life. (Oct.)
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September 30, 2008
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Excerpt from The English Major by Jim Harrison
I drove across the state line into North Dakota with a glad heart and a feeling of romantic triumph with Marybelle at my side. She actually wore a soft cotton skirt I had been drawn to when she was a high school senior. I was flattered that she remembered that I liked it that late May afternoon when we had graduation rehearsal, leading up to a not always pleasant ceremony where a donkey speaker gives an hour speech on how education is the "ticket to the future." Everyone is half-asleep from a picnic of ham, potato salad, and deviled eggs. The seniors are sweating in their robes, eager to get at their secret celebration which will involve beer, pot, perhaps meth, and certainly sex.
I almost forgot! North Dakota is the Flickertail state, their bird is the western meadowlark, the flower is the wild prairie rose, and the motto is a sort of wordy "Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable." I gave Marybelle the privilege of tossing out the pale orange Minnesota piece into the Bois de Sioux River. We stood on the bridge and waved good-bye to the Minnesota piece bobbing south on the roiling current. I suddenly remembered my last nap using Lola as a pillow out in the cherry orchard in May. Now for the first time in twenty-five years, I didn't give a shit about weather, what with the farm being sold. Part of the mental slavery of farming is that you're always thinking it's too warm or too cold, too wet or too dry, or that a big wind is going to bruise the fruit.