Jim Harrison's fifteen works of fiction have established him as one of the most beloved and popular authors in American fiction. His last novel, The English Major, was a National Indie Bestseller, a New York Times Book Review notable, and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. Harrison's latest collection of novellas, The Farmer's Daughter, finds him writing at the height of his powers, and in fresh and audacious new directions.
The three stories in The Farmer's Daughter are as different as they are unforgettable. Written in the voice of a home-schooled fifteen-year-old girl in rural Montana, the title novella is an uncompromising, beautiful tale of an extraordinary character whose youth intersects with unexpected brutality, and the reserves she must draw on to make herself whole. In another, Harrison's beloved recurring character Brown Dog, still looking for love, escapes from Canada back to the States on the tour bus of an Indian rock band called Thunderskins. And finally, a retired werewolf, misdiagnosed with a rare blood disorder brought on by the bite of a Mexican hummingbird, attempts to lead a normal life but is nevertheless plagued by hazy, feverish episodes of epic lust, physical appetite, athletic exertions, and outbursts of violence under the full moon.
The Farmer's Daughter is a memorable portrait of three decidedly unconventional American lives. With wit, poignancy, and an unbounded love for his characters, Jim Harrison has again reminded us why he is one of the most cherished and important authors at work today.
In three novellas as dark as they are exuberant, Harrison delivers protagonists who are smart, lusty in that classic Harrison fashion and linked by "The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me," a Patsy Cline song that appears throughout and could easily serve as the characters' theme song. The first novella recounts the story of Sarah, who is dragged to rural Montana by her neglectful parents and, at age 15, is the victim of a sexual assault that provides her with an undying thirst for revenge. The collection's second and strongest novella features a recurring Harrison character, Brown Dog, a half-Indian free spirit who cares for his ailing stepdaughter who is afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome. (He also has sex a lot.) The final piece presents Samuel, who as a child traveling in Mexico contracted viruses that now cause werewolflike spells that render him a "permanent stranger." Harrison (Legends of the Fall) shows he is still at the top of his game with these compressed gems. Taken together, they present another fine accomplishment in a storied career.
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December 14, 2009
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Excerpt from The Farmer's Daughter by Jim Harrison
Sarah sat down near a juniper bush and watched the landscape to the east slowly reveal itself, the moon set and Venus disappeared. The sun rose reddishly and streaks of cirrus clouds meant it would likely be a windy day. She cradled the .30-06 across her knees, pleased that she had brought a small Space Blanket along to sit on, a buffer against the frozen earth. Way to the north she could see Lester's alfalfa fields and to the east there were thousands of flat acres of wheatland that reminded her of Willa Cather. She meant to visit Nebraska someday because of Cather but she intended to visit a lot of places and had been nowhere to speak of except western Montana. Sitting there glassing the landscape with her binoculars for antelope she felt a sharp pang of loneliness beneath her breastbone.
At about nine-thirty she heard a rifle shot off to the northeast and suspected Marcia had scored. Sarah glassed a group of about fifteen antelope running toward the south that unfortunately would not be coming close to her. The wind rose and she backed into the juniper bush for shelter, looking down at a jackrabbit skull and part of its skeleton. After a while during which Marcia gutted the animal, she was visible heading toward Sarah alternately carrying the antelope for a hundred yards then dragging it a hundred yards. That was true Marcia, Sarah thought. How many fifteen-year-old girls can carry a hundred pound antelope?