The Raw and the Cooked. Jim Harrison.

Harrison, Jim. The Raw and the Cooked. Grove Press New York 2001. NF; 03/11.

I don’t think I’ve ever had my opinion of a book change so completely from the beginning (where I nearly threw it in the garbage) to a bit further in. This guy is wonderful, but his style is a generation old, so at first it felt like he was just a flowery old fart. The food stuff is sadly tiresome, but it’s only part of the show.

Over and over he tells us about eating triple quantities (and drinking triple quantities) at a sitting, often the same stuff: wild game especially birds which he always kills himself, crazy amounts of garlic, smoked meat, obscure vegetables from Mexico and South America, and peppers. Plus pounds of caviar, double magnums of Chateau Lafite, and many entire foies gras, steamed. And often with famous actors (we’re told dozens of times he made his money as a screenwriter). There’s much-repeated bird hunting with his beloved dog, long walks from his cabin near Lake Michigan, and flying and driving back and forth across the country eating at all sorts of obscure favorite restaurants. Fine, but mostly just the crowing of an aging rooster.

Then all of a sudden we’re in a very good personal essay. He got depressed and almost committed suicide, did drugs in the 60s, and successfully went from a near-fatal rye whiskey alcoholic to a surviving quantity wine drinker. I got arrested by

Included in what I had to give up when I crossed the Mackinac Bridge were being right, an incredible energy waster; holding the world together by thinking about it; and abandoning what I thought was my personality, a tiresome collection of rehearsals.” (reverse italics mine)

He quotes DH Lawrence:

I am part of the sun as my eyes are part of me…That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself. It is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.

Lovely soft literary philosophy, almost on a par with Shakespeare’s Prospero “show’s over” speech, and it’s pretty clear old Jim Harrison gets it.

He says of people who eat healthy: “These folks think they are going to live longer. Too bad it comes at the end.” He thinks the French are healthy because they “… appear much less stressed by the daily impedimenta that haunt us all because they presume they’re always right.”

Anyway the introspection consistent with ideas that appeal to me against a background of heroic eating, drinking, and hunting got me. I bought a volume of his novellas, The Farmer’s Daughter. More to come. 8.6/6.3 .

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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