‘The River Swimmer’ and ‘Brown Dog’
Harrison is at his best in these two collections of novellas. In ‘The Land of Unlikeness,’ the first story in ‘The River Swimmer,’ a 60-year-old art professor returns home to care for his mother and finds the past staring back at him wherever he looks. “Memories reside in the landscape and arise when you revisit an area,” Harrison writes with solipsistic sorrow. “If he could find his old car, Laurette would still be nude on the front seat.” The River Swimmer itself is about a teenager’s mystic obsession with the water, while Brown Dog corrals all the escapades of one of Harrison’s greatest characters, Brown Dog, or B.D., as he’s known in the tribal lands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He’s not really a fuckup, but not quite not. He makes his way among petty thieves, boozehounds, fatheads, and dissembling women, mortgaging redemption at every turn. Like most people, he is what he is.
All of Harrison’s gifts are on display in these two books, which would pass for a single volume if sewn together. There’s his infectious love of food, his keen attention to the natural world, his wry evocations of the inner life, his salt-cured truths (“people lie about money, alcohol, and when they get up in the morning”), and, of course, his deep appreciation for a nice ass.
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