Thursday, September 03, 2009

The English Major by Jim Harrison

I picked this book strictly for the title and the cover. I never heard of Jim Harrison, despite the fact that he has written over 25 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. He has also won a Guggenhiem and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Conspicuously absent are a Pulitzer, a PEN/Faulkner Award, and a National Book Award.

The story he tells holds a lot of interest for me, even though this is my third recent read involving aging teachers undergoing a mid/late-life crisis. Cliff’s wife Viv has left him for a high-school flame. As part of the divorce, she has sold their farm out from under him and turned him out. He takes his share of the divorce money, and hits the road. Along the way (from Michigan to Washington, down through California, Arizona, New Mexico, then back up to Montana and home to Michigan) he meets a variety of characters from his past and some new ones. While it is not riotously funny, it does have its moments with some sassy, snappy prose.

One thing that annoyed me was Harrison penchant for parenthetically explaining some pretty ordinary things. For example, he writes, “I had been a chaperone and driver for a bunch of 4-H (Head, Heart, Health, and Hands) kids going to a big meeting” (6). Later he provides the same service for “ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)” (28). Maybe his teacherly hat fell down while he was typing.

A pretty decent road novel worth a couple of lazy afternoons. 4 stars

--Chiron, 9/3/09

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