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True North

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Jim Harrison

If the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, what should a son do to provide moral recompense? In Harrison's earnest, initially riveting new novel, narrator David Burkett decides as a teenager in the 1960s that he must rectify the ecological damage … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Jim Harrison
Publisher: Grove Press
1 review about True North

A Strange but Intoxicating Journey to Delayed Adulthood

  • Oct 2, 2004
Jim Harrison is a writer's writer and a reader's writer and quite simply one of the best yarn spinners writing today. TRUE NORTH is a fine work of fiction that not only tells an intensely interesting story, it also exudes some of the more poetic prose and contemplative spiritual psychology that touches an audience of readers longing for books about environmentalism, about contemporary sexuality, about dysfunctional families, and about seeking sanity in a world apparently bent on squashing it.

Briefly, this is the story of David Burkett, born to Robber Barons in the Upper Penisula of Michigan who gained their wealth at the expense of destroying the timber lands which in turn deprived the Native Americans of their space and created a desecration of the land through logging and mining that permanently altered the target of their greed. But David wants revenge on his family's history, a history which includes his immediate family - a mother so lost in pills and alcohol and high society that she is unavailable, a father who is also an alcoholic, a pedophile, and in general a detestable boor who buys his way out of recurring run-ins with the law for raping young girls only to spend and squander the family fortune for his insatiable hedonism, and a sister Cynthia who, though younger than David, is brassy enough to escape this detestable family and run off with a half breed to disgrace the family she loathes. David attempts to avoid his genetic disposition by committing to right wing religion, but eventually fails in that and finds himself lusting after every female he encounters - never finding love, but never really knowing how to love. He finally decides his only salvation is to write a book that tells the public the truth about the environmental murderers of his family and his attempts to accomplish this mission fill the pages of this wondrous novel. How he finally arrives at a stage of self-realization and leaves his obsession with destroying the influence of his family's influence to discover that wearing the sins of his father around his neck has prevented him from looking up and ahead and seeing the beauty of nature and the connection with the meaning of life that this allows is the remarkable journey Harrison creates.

This story is never less than interesting and absorbing as a novel, but it is in the language of writing that Jim Harrison excels. His style includes free-association of sometimes a dozen thoughts and memories and observations in one paragraph. But he never loses us as readers. At times he stops for poetic words and the reader is strongly tempted to underline favorite passages as poems for re-reading later. "When you're sixteen your world is small and events easily conspire to make it even smaller. You have glimpses of greater dimensions but this perception easily retracts. Eros enlivens another world but not the simple world of masturbatory trance...Naturally during the act of love you're undisturbed by reality, a grace note I also found in trout fishing, but then lovemaking and fishing don't manage to dominate your life like you wished they could." "[Laurie] didn't so much die as withdraw, and her body under the sheet was still but there was an aura of departure that made me feel cold despite the warm room. Instead of pressing the button to call a nurse I listened to an aspect of emptiness I hadn't heard before as if her passing had stopped all other sound....When it was over I had nothing left about which to draw conclusions. My incomprehension was total. She was there and then she wasn't and though I understood the biological fact of death the whole ballooned outward from the mute sum of the parts." "...I recalled how a wonderfully cynical history professor had pointed out that when we came to America we were always discovering something like the source of the Mississippi that the Natives were already well aware of, but then our attitude to the Natives was not unlike Hitler's attitude toward the Jews. And the history of my family was not unlike the history of he United States. We were among the leading conquerors of a region and when we had thoroughly depleted its main resources we mythologized our destruction." "(Boating) With each stroke I'd think of something, say how all religions seemed to imitate and sacrifice themselves to temporal powers thus allowing greed to wrap itself in a semi-holy mantle, then after each strong stroke there was a long glide when I'd become utterly submerged in the sheer 'thingness' of life around me and be incapable of thought let alone comprehension: lake, water, sky, bird, my feet, my breathing." "I kept thinking that throughout the world there are sons and daughters with distorted wishes for what their parents should be, or hopeless wishes for what their parents should have been. Some of the most critical of us are afflicted with a paralysis over this, our brains too active with resentment to solidify function....My reaction had nothing to do with anger or curiosity but a mute acceptance of the human condition, the brain spinning tales before which we are quite helpless."

But one could continue quoting Harrison's writing and never touch on the moments of hilarity, of pathos, of tenderness, of unimaginable cruelty, all of which are blended in this amazing story. This is a novel to read again - like returning to your childhood to see if it really is what you remembered, or imagined. Highly recommended reading.

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