Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison’s The Ancient Minstrel is three novellas.  The first is a memoir of a man you might want to have a beer with, but you wouldn’t want to be married to or count on.  This is the story of a terrible husband, a writer who drinks too much. He ignores his wife but wants to get down with the teenager in the pig pen.


In the second novella “Eggs,” the main protagonist, Catherine, is a woman who isn’t like any woman you ever met.  Everything about her as a woman bothers me.  If this character had been a man, this novella would have worked much better.  She’s described as shapely, slender, caring about her appearance. Catherine has sex randomly with men she meets without wanting any kind of attachment.  She eats roast beef, venison, hamburgers and steak.  She doesn’t eat salads or tuna fish.  She likes random sex, but she doesn’t want a husband and this is in the 1950s.  I don’t know any shapely Oxford educated farmers who love chickens, random sex and hamburgers.  Okay, this novella didn’t work for me.  But maybe I’ve been in LA too long.


The last novella redeemed the whole book.  “The Case of the Howling Buddhas” was a perfect story, a despicable protagonist who you just want to keep watching.  Having a sweet likable character who you follow everywhere is one thing, having a pathetic loser of a character who you can’t keep watching is another. Oddly, this is the same character, or a version of the same character from the first novella, but here is more despicable and more finely drawn.  The ending is crisp and American.  You can see why Jim Harrison is so widely read abroad; there’s something in these stories with all the worst primal viscous parts of an American male’s character and the darkness at the bottom, the threshing of the corn of what’s left of American manhood. We’ve got fishing and hunting.


Published in: on July 2, 2017 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment  

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