The Ancient Minstrel: Novellas (Paperback)
Jim Harrison, that rough and ready yet supremely literary writer who wove the physical world through his poetry, his novels, his wondrous novellas and stories, died last week. He’ll be sorely missed. Considered together, the three novellas of his final book, The Ancient Minstrel, seem oddly linked, a coda of sorts, although at first glance they bare scant similarity to one another. The title tale is a self-mocking account of an aging writer, separated from his wife but only by the distance of the yard since he inhabits the writer’s studio, his wife the house they once shared. As always sex is on his mind, along with old nightmares, poetry, booze, dogs, dinners, rivers, hard work, pigs—the lifelong preoccupations and passions that have enriched and bedeviled his years. If there’s a hero in this tale, it’s the author’s wife, as the last line of the epilogue bears out with marked self-irony.
Irony enforced by the second novella, the funny, lovely “Eggs,” featuring one of the most clear-eyed, likable creations in Harrison’s fiction, a woman who grew up with alcoholics and knows what she now wants—chickens, a baby, the farm-life denied her mother—and what she doesn’t want. Men. Not that she spurns them; she just wants her own life. Then the disturbing “The Case of the Howling Buddhas” carries the addictions from both previous tales to the loathsome extreme of pedophilia. Somehow the second and third tales seem to bookend the first, perhaps because they detail the best and worst of the character in “The Ancient Minstrel” and of the author—the Rabelaisian appetite for life that is at the heart of his talent, the harm it can do. Whether meant as a coda or not, this is signature Harrison, gutsy, funny, dead-honest, as full of contrary currents and of beauty, as the rivers he so loved to write about.— From Betsy Burton
A New York Times bestseller, The Ancient Minstrel is a stunning collection of novellas that highlight Jim Harrison's phenomenal range as a writer, shot through with his trademark wit and keen insight into the human condition. Harrison has tremendous fun with his own reputation in the title novella, about an aging writer in Montana who indulges his lifelong dream of raising pigs, struggles to write the "big novel" he's rashly promised his editor, and attempts to rekindle the long marriage that has sustained him. In Eggs, a Montana woman recalls a life spent collecting eggs--at her grandparents' farm in Montana and near Dorset, England, where she ends up during World War II. Eggs of a different sort preoccupy her when, unmarried but undeterred, she decides to try to have a baby. And in The Case of the Howling Buddhas, retired Detective Sunderson is hired as a private investigator to look into a bizarre cult that achieves satori by howling along with howler monkeys at the zoo. Fresh and entertaining, with moments of both profound wisdom and sublime humor, The Ancient Minstrel is an exceptional reminder of why Harrison was one of our most beloved and critically acclaimed writers.
About the Author
Jim Harrison (19372016) was the "New York Times"-bestselling author of thirty-nine books of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, including "Legends of the Fall," "Dalva," and "Returning to Earth." A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and winner of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, his work was published in twenty-seven languages."