I’ve done it again, I think. I’ve probably missed out and misjudged. Jim Harrison seems to be an author of some note and some longevity. His books have been responsible for a couple of movies, one of which (Legends of the Fall) I’ve heard of, though not seen. However, I’d never heard of either True North, nor of Jim Harrison till my neighbor dropped the novel on my porch. What’s more, judging by this book, I’m not inclined to explore the his work further.
We join our protagonist, David Burkett (“…fourth in a line of David Burketts beginning in the 1860s when my great-grandfather emigrated from Cornwall, England, to the upper Peninsula of Michigan which forms the southern border of Lake Superior, that vast inland sea of freshwater .”), or rather he joins himself, at age 18 to begin telling us the story of his years from then till “now” at approximately age thirty-five. After a rather baffling, and to my mind unnecessary, prologue, we wend our way through Burkett’s life in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. That life is filled with enormous angst and guilt over his timber-baron ancestors’ exploitation and desecration of the north woods, its natives, and its working folk. That exploitation has left him with means to live independently, and he can’t stand it.
He embarks on a project to write a grand expose of and apology for his family’s misdeeds. It’s obvious the grand design will never come to pass. Burkett is so mentally and emotionally unstable, wanders so aimlessly through life and loves, that anything he accomplishes will be purely by accident. He somehow becomes intensely involved with five females, one of whom is a dog (how pathetic is that?), and casually involved with a number of others. What the women (except the dog) find attractive about him is hard to fathom. Maybe he stimulates the maternal instinct or something. Whatever the case, I found little or nothing to admire about this sad sack except his moral idealism, which is whiny, flaccid, badly in need of viagra.
The narrative of True North wanders as much as the thoughts, emotions, and actions of its narrator, so I never got truly caught up in the tale. There was a great deal of polemic (always a bad sign), even more tell-not-show, and enough incomprehensible two-bit philosophy to drown a duck:
I thought that the natural world wasn’t meant to be soothing which was only an abstraction. People were nature too and it was schizophrenic to try to separate them from what we ordinarily though of as nature. When you allowed your view of the world to vastly expand the questions expanded with it.
and so on.
Nevertheless, the guy’s been a long-time commercial and literary success, so I’m sure I’m missing something. That happens a lot.