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Book Review: 'The River Swimmer'

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Jim Harrison, the writer best known for his 1979 collection of novellas, "Legends of the Fall" is at it again. His latest book, "The River Swimmer," is a pair of new novellas, and Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: In the title piece, "The River Swimmer," the main character, a young Midwestern guy named Thad swims great lakes and rivers, becomes involved with beautiful, attractive and willing girls. In his outsized and almost cartoon-like philosophical ambition, Thad declares, I just want to feel at home on earth. He has quite some distance to go.

In the other novella that Harrison calls, "The Land of Unlikeness," he comes mighty close to achieving this end, feeling at home on earth. In a fine parade of neatly made, apt and deeply-felt sentences, this novella deepens and enlarges an emotion-charged couple of weeks in the life of Clive. Clive's a Midwestern painter turned critic, for many decades now, a resident of New York City.

Long divorced and an estranged father of a grown daughter now living further west, he's returned to his old rural northern Michigan haunts to keep company with his aging mother, an ardent bird-watcher and churchgoer, while his sister, mom's usual caretaker, travels in Europe. Clive discovers almost immediately that he's wildly underestimated the power of the home place and the Proustian sense of how memories, as he puts it, how memories reside in the landscape and arise when you revisit an area.

Mooning over Laurette, his first girlfriend, long divorced herself now and living nearby in her old family farmhouse with a flirtatious female companion, Clive takes up painting again in order to recreate the grandest erotic encounter of his early manhood. In this way, Clive, eccentric and still gifted after all these years, inches forward towards some new peace with himself and his family.

And, I have to say, it's quite a struggle, no two ways about it. But by the end, you'll feel a little bit closer to home yourself.

CORNISH: Jim Harrison's new book is called "The River Swimmer." Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. His most recent book is also a collection of novellas called "Paradise." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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