three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
By: 
Jim Harrison
user_rating: 
0

A-SummerDidntDieThe Summer He Didn’t Die, Harrison’s fifth collection of novellas, marks the return of his best-known character, the free-spirited and amorous Brown Dog (or BD), a mixed-blood Indian from Northern Michigan. The title story finds Brown Dog married and caring for his two stepchildren. While their alcoholic mother serves a prison sentence, he tries to prevent his disabled child from being placed in a special education school. The middle story, "Republican Wives," is told from the perspective of three wealthy women who share a lover one of them may have killed. The collection is rounded out by the highly autobiographical "Tracking," in which Harrison explores the psyche of the writer.
Atlantic Monthly Press. 278 pages. $24.00 ISBN: 0871138921

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Here, writing in breathlessly paced third person, Harrison does what he didn’t quite get done in his 2002 memoir Off to the Side: He reveals the deeper textures of his life—key literary influences, sustaining personal philosophies and the various places that have shaped him. It’s a fitting recap of his career to this point." Kathleen Johnson

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the pleasures of reading Jim Harrison’s fifth collection of novellas is the reminder that this intermediate, unloved, and ostensibly unpublishable form is capable of great range and vitality. Novellas must pack all the apparatus of a novel (characters moving through time, sustained action) into a briefer space. . . . The Summer He Didn’t Die meets all these technical requirements, but mostly it succeeds because it is fueled by solid storytelling and by Harrison’s characteristic ease as a stylist." Jean Thompson

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Harrison is one of the few writers to regularly opt for the novella. . . . The challenge with this narrative form is to create a true literary world in about 100 pages. The danger is that the novella will read like the synopsis of a novel that, for whatever reasons, was never written. This is a trap that a writer of Jim Harrison’s rare caliber manages to avoid." Jean Charbonneau

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The Summer He Didn’t Die doesn’t match the lean precision of Harrison’s best work. Nonetheless, these new novellas are urgent and contemporary, displaying his marvelous gifts for compression and idiosyncratic language." Jane Ciabattari

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"Tracking comes as a jolting contrast to the preceding stories, tracking the author’s actual life so closely that the fictional aspects must be elusive to anyone outside Harrison’s immediate family. . . . Harrison has crafted Tracking as a series of simple, declarative sentences and arranged them almost as a transcript of oral history, with little of the wit and poetry of the companion pieces." Fred Grimm

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"The new collection is a little uneven. . . . [F]ans of Harrison will best enjoy this collection overall, particularly the opportunity that the title novella offers to catch up with Brown Dog again, but those new to Harrison or to novellas might want to turn to other books for the best of both." Jenny Shank

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"The title novella in The Summer He Didn’t Die is not only among his best, but about as joyous as fiction gets . . . . Although Harrison’s trio of novellas dips in the middle with ‘Republican Wives,’ he again demonstrates his range as a writer. When one of the three eponymous wives quips, ‘Wealthy woman’s life lacks content,’ she unfortunately sums up both the theme of this second story and the reason it falls flat." Heller McAlpin

Critical Summary

Harrison is arguably America’s master of the novella, and critics praise him for conquering such a challenging literary form. "The Summer He Didn’t Die" evokes Harrison’s previous Brown Dog stories—here narrating Brown Dog’s latest adventures—to please longtime fans, though even sympathetic critics concede that this latest collection is perhaps not his best. Some critics were surprised at the inclusion of the autobiographical "Tracking" so closely on the heels of Harrison’s 2002 memoir, Off to the Side.

Also by the Author

Legends of the Fall (1979): Legends contains three novellas that you should read. "Legends of the Fall" is better than the Brad Pitt film of the same name; "Revenge" is better than the Kevin Costner film of the same name; and "The Man Who Gave Up His Name" has yet to be adapted by Hollywood.