Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Returning to Earth" by Jim Harrison

I am laughing at myself because I thought this was the book mentioned to me by a friend several weeks ago, so when a coworker offered to loan me a copy just this past weekend, I figured it had two stamps of approval. When I began to read, though, and found that the initial narrator is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease, I was confused. From what I remembered my first friend saying, the main character has a near death experience and comes back (which would make sense, considering the title). But after further thought and reading I wondered if it wasn't more of a "dust to dust" sort of reference. So I asked my first friend, and found out that the book she had recommended was Return from Tomorrow by George Ritchie and Elizabeth Sherrill. Oops!

Anyway, I enjoyed this not-a-near-death-experience-but-just-a-death-experience book, and I think I was better able to understand it after I removed the idea that Donald was going to come back to life.

The story is told in a stream-of-consciousness style by four different narrators which reminds me of my recent reading of The Sound and The Fury, although none of the narrations in this book are anywhere near as garbled as the first two in Faulkner's novel. Also, I noticed several times that an incident would be mentioned as if the reader already had full knowledge of it, and then later in the narrative the details would be filled in and the questions answered, with the exception of one large point which was left ambiguous. It is hinted that David killed his father, and perhaps even cut off his hands, but this is never explained clearly.

It appears that this book is a sequel to Harrison's True North, and I almost wish I'd read that one first, but all I can do now is add it to my list of books to read. Along with Legends of the Fall, which I didn't even realize started as a novel. It would be most interesting to read that one, especially because the movie seems quite a bit more plot-driven than Returning to Earth. I'd like to see whether Harrison's style of writing varies significantly between the two works, or if the difference lies with wild changes made in the movie adaptation.

A few brief notes: Donald's death comes with shocking rapidity. I really expected it to be quite a bit more drawn out, but all of a sudden there he was dead. However, I'm pretty sure I respect this portrayal more than I would have a detailed and sappy death scene.

I was slightly insulted by a review excerpt I read at the beginning of this book which claimed that "anyone who emerges dry-eyed...isn't paying attention." This book didn't make me cry, but it wasn't because I wasn't paying attention. It was just because I am heartless and cold.

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