The Farmer’s Daughter. Jim Harrison.

Harrison, Jim. The Farmer’s Daughter. Anansi Toronto 2010. F; 4/11.

Here we have three of Harrison’s novellas, bought to follow up discovery of his personal essays nominally focused on food. The content is much as expected having read the essays, but the honesty of ideas (as far as I was able to grasp it) is not on the same level for me. The characters look like larger-than-life rough-and-tumble images of Harrison’s real and/or imaginary self (it’s hard to know how much of the largeness, referred to by Robin as “dirty old man”, is wishful thinking on his part. I have no quarrel with that aspect of things anyway.) .

But I can’t avoid picturing Harrison drooling over his Farmer’s Daughter. She is a pornography-queen-grade brilliant teenager who is ineptly raped, experiences a strangely shallow young adolescent spiritual enlightenment in a rural setting, tracks down and terrifies the rapist by shooting at him with a rifle (intentionally missing), and (PLOT ALERT) then meets a sensitive 35-year-old Mexican pianist, falls in love, and apparently lives happily ever after. Gorgeous sex objects also have a soul (END PLOT ALERT)?

In “Brown Dog” an American native romps through the Midwest and Toronto humping everything in sight, taking off into the bush whenever he breaks the law, and communing with nature. Harrison as he wishes he could’ve been or thinks he was?

A kid who screws the neighborhood tomboy at age 12 gets a couple of viruses (one from a hummingbird and one from a wolf), and develops an illness consisting of being part wolf and having uncontrollable impulses every time the moon is full. Of course he’s effortlessly straight-A, aces university courses, appreciates Greek and Chinese poetry, kills animals with his bare hands, fucks his Spanish teacher half to death, survives in the wilderness at 40 below, and (PLOT ALERT) then reconnects with the tomboy and lives happily ever after (END PLOT ALERT). Another wet dream?

It’s definitely unique stuff. What kept me going through a lot of it is all that sex every few pages served up with unedited-sounding language. There is an annoying stoned stream of consciousness at times that reminds me of stuff I read (and probably wrote) when I was about 17. The moon is full. Nothing is what it appears to be. I am in grave danger of dying. My thoughts are one with the bears… (not quoted, but you get the idea). And then:

Samuel, try to imagine you are inside the house looking at yourself out the back window. Loving someone who doesn’t love you is one of the world’s oldest and dreariest stories. Loving someone who thinks they love you could be worse. There’s no guarantee, but if you don’t love you’re a coward. So now you’re inside looking out here at yourself. Just who do you think you are? That’s the point you have to work on.

In spite of his occasionally getting it right like that, I think I’ll take a rest from Harrison. But it’s been an interesting side trip. 5.5/???

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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