i've discovered a new author i like a lot. jim harrison has written poetry and fiction set usually in the areas in which he grew up (Michigan, Minnesota, northern mid-west states) or where he maintains a second home today in the southwest, Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California. his writing reminds me a bit of louise erdrich, and i'll say more about that later.
I discovered jim harrison by (uncharacteristically) reading a mystery novel set on the north coast of California (one of my favorite places on earth) by Janet LaPierre who has one of her characters, Verity Mackellar, mention that she is reading a good memoir called "Off To The Side." So, I googled that title, and discovered that it is a real book, by author Jim Harrison.
I began to read the memoir, and wasn't sure whether or not I was going to connect. His voice is very masculine, his concerns seemed at first not to relate to me - a friend said his concerns were very regional, midwestern - booze, dames, and hunting. But I found that I really did enjoy his style of self-disclosure, his way of communicating something honest, yet occasionally diverting, in the sense that he can surprise me with a turn of phrase, and not just a knack of phrasing but a nice juicy sliver of insight. I began to feel this guy is like some kind of Americana wisdom-bum combining the likes of Erich Fromm, Mark Twain, Jack Kerouac and Carl Sandburg - if you can believe such an ungainly combination - plus something that is characteristically himself.
The more I read, the more I liked. And so I soon went out and picked up one of his novels, an early one called Dalva, written, I believe, in 1988.
This is when I began to see the similarities to Louise Erdrich. I began thinking to myself, is this a style of writing that is somehow organically produced by the north-country? I was thinking 'he is like the male version of her, and as an author, she is the native-american-part-white voice to his white-american-part-native voice.' in other words, erdrich, who is part-German and part-Ojibway, and writes both parts brilliantly (imho), specializes perhaps in the native-american perspective in her literature. i'm assuming harrison is part-Sioux because he always includes part-Sioux characters in his novels, (although i don't recall if he mentioned it in his memoir, however, it seems likely to me, given things he writes about his father's people). Based on my own experience with home-grown variety native-american people (as differentiated from hollywood-style or even AIM-style "indians"), I would say that both of these authors write the white, the native-american and the mixed characters very very well, and offer us something of a perspective that I seem only to find in literature that combines these two American influences quite consciously.
This indicates to me a degree of authenticity.
Let it be said, simply, that i am very happy to have found jim harrison's work, and to put it on my shelves next to Louise Erdrich's. Oh, and by the way, just out of curiosity, I googled 'jim harrison + louise erdrich' and found that others see similarities in these two writers too!
I may write more about harrison in the near future, as there are some specific topics he gets into, in Dalva, that I find interest me personally.