The Detroit Free Press recently headed to Arizona to catch up with novelist and Michigan native Jim Harrison, who’s become much more prolific in recent years. According to the story, much of his newfound productivity comes thanks to some (relatively) clean living, but it’s also due to an impulse to get closer to his roots:
“I miss the U.P. terribly,” Harrison says. “It became a retreat for me from the real world. … It was like, after a disgusting two weeks of movie meetings, and then a day later you’re at the Dunes Saloon in Grand Marais after taking a 4-hour walk with your dogs and never seeing anybody, because I’d say 99% of my hiking, I never saw another human being. Which is the way I liked it.
“I know I’ve written about Michigan a lot lately, and I wonder if the origin isn’t homesickness. Which is a very deep feeling, what the Portuguese call saudade. It’s that longing for a place.”
Harrison spent much of his career with fellow Michigander Thomas McGuane as his closest peer and friend, making for a literary orbit I confess I don’t have much feel for. I didn’t much care for books like Harrison’s 1990 story collection, The Women Lit By Fireflies, and early McGuane novels like Ninety-Two in the Shade can be obnoxiously showy, products of the worst of the Beat era and the New Journalism combined. (Sometimes he verged into the just plain nonsensical: According to Harrison’s memoir, Off to the Side, McGuane once wrote liner notes to a Jimmy Buffett album that praised him for being “one of the last of the sucking chest wound singers to sleep on the yellow line.”)
McGuane has transformed his prose style beautifully in recent years, though, and perhaps Harrison has as well. Maybe they even spent time commiserating over the matter, though we won’t know that for a while yet. The Free Press story mentions that while Harrison’s papers reside at Grand Valley State University, his correspondence with McGuane is strictly off-limits until 2015 (PDF). “Some of it’s indelicate,” Harrison tells the paper. “It contains actresses’ names and dirty stuff. Stacks of it. He writes beautiful letters.”
Don’t try to be clever and attempt to get at the sordid details from the other side: McGuane’s papers reside at Michigan State University, but Harrison’s letters to him are accessible only with his written permission.
Playboy will publish an excerpt of Vladimir Nabokov‘s final work, an unfinished novella titled The Original of Laura. Don’t look so shocked: The magazine interviewed him in 1964.
Ernest Hemingway: KGB spy?
The Second Pass takes a look at ten books that need to be tossed out of the canon. First up, Don DeLillo‘s White Noise: “DeLillo sacrifices any sense of realism for dull, thin polemic.” I’m not buying the “polemic” bit, and who said he was shooting for realism anyhow?
The Iowa Review has a new editor.
Politico rings up Ward Just for a quote about the death of Robert McNamara.
Eudora Welty‘s estate pulled her name out of the running for the renaming of her alma mater, the Mississippi University for Women.
The Atlantic has a modest proposal: Give tax breaks to publishers who support new and little-known writers. M.A. Orthofer retorts, “don’t ‘not-for-profit’ publishers (many of the finest small publishers in the US) already get obscene tax breaks ?”
John Updike‘s longtime home in Beverly Farms, Mass., sold last month for $2.5 million.
Jim Harrison has a pretty fancy house too, though his actual writing room looks like a cubicle in an abandoned real-estate brokerage.
George Pelecanos doesn’t know jack about writing about shotguns, according to a Field & Stream gunblogger: “Pelecanos in particular will put characters in a tense armed standoff, then have someone say ‘I can shoot you before you have time to rack that pump.’ In real life the immediate reply would be ‘Boom.’”
A Lansing, Mich., TV station covered last week’s summit of Michigan-bred authors Richard Ford, Jim Harrison, and Thomas McGuane—nice to see this kind of thing mentioned on the nightly news, even if the anchor offers a very puzzling mispronunciation of “McGuane.”
Donald Ray Pollack‘s Knockemstiff is being met with positive reviews in England, though I trust nobody there thinks the short-story collection is a window into contemporary American life.
Which might be the case with Ethan Canin‘s America America.
The Washington Post Magazine dedicates its feature well to personal essays by Cheryl Strayed, Jonathan Safran Foer, Julia Glass, and Ha Jin. I gravitated toward the last one, in which Jin recalls his very earliest experiences in America; for anybody who was deeply struck, as I was, by A Free Life, it’s a must-read:
For new arrivals in America, there was always the sinister attraction of money. Suddenly one could make $4 or $5 an hour, which was equal to a whole week’s wages back home. If you were not careful, you could fall into the money-grubbing trap. Some Chinese students didn’t continue with their graduate work because they couldn’t stop making money. One fellow from Shanghai started working part time in a museum on campus but soon stopped showing up in his lab in the physics department, dropped out of graduate school within a semester, and began taking courses to learn how to sell real estate. Another in American studies, who loved teaching as a profession, could no longer write his dissertation after taking a clerical job in a bank — sometimes he put in more than 60 hours a week, the overtime even harder to resist.
Power’s back on (though my Internet connection is still a bit balky). A few things I missed:
Pakistan’s Daily Times has the complete text of Ernest Hemingway‘s “A Very Short Story.” Summary: war, letters, gonorrhea.
All those complaints about Truman Capote‘s shabby reporting are finally starting to penetrate: In Cold Blood is a “Classic American novel.”
In Michigan next Tuesdayon July 10? Richard Ford, Jim Harrison, and Thomas McGuane will all speak at MSU on June 10 as part of the Michigan Big Read. The last two should at least have some good Jack Nicholson stories.
Irish author Polly Devlin writes about running into Mary Gordon and soon decamping to teach at Columbia University in New York City, where “you are judged on your grooming and your status—not on your age.” Oh, Polly, you’re judged for everything there…