The Road Home, Jim Harrison

I haven't read all the work, but I am slowly reading it. I have a lot of thoughts on Harrison and appreciation for him, especially as a Michigan writer, one of my state's and region's leading voices (I also admire Bonnie Jo Campbell). I tend to think of Harrison as a religious writer, whose characters tend to use existing religions as their platform but then plunge into natural and personal symbolism, and experience, including the personal and historical, to create and/or constantly reinvent their own religion, obeying a basic religious impulse to sort themselves and their world into the categorical or recognizable. Here's I think a telling representative paragraph, from The Road Home (which does not take place in Michigan but Nebraska):

That thought jogged my mind and when I got home I looked in a journal for my recollection of what Rosenthal had said during our picnic years ago. It had been occasioned by my telling him a story about when I was seven years old, in fact the day before my birthday, and my mother had gotten word that her eldest brother had died up near Buffalo Gap. She lit a small fire out in the yard and sat there, covering herself with gray ashes, chanting and wailing all night long. I stood by my bedroom window and watched, quite frightened, my world delaminating from her grief and the eerie sounds she sang. My father came out and tried to wrap a shawl around her which she threw off. At dawn, my father came for me and I sat next to her in my pajamas until the sun came up over the trees and she stopped abruptly. She then walked over to the full horse trough, doused herself, came back to us smiling and said it was time for breakfast, I was overjoyed as it seemed to mean my birthday would not be overlooked.

Rosenthal was a bit melancholy at first with the anecdote and then spoke at length. My journal owns none of his fast-paced eloquence, but he said that I was fortunate to have seen something that has largely passed with modernity, an event that is now thought to be archaic since nearly all of us have distanced and sequestered ourselves from all of the highly evolved rituals and experiences surrounding birth, death, sexuality, animals, active religion, nature, even art and insanity. I felt I largely understood what he meant except in the realm of art, but he elaborated by saying that in primitive cultures everyone was an artist and storyteller, only some, quite obviously to all, were much better at it than others.


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