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The River Swimmer: Novellas

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  920 ratings  ·  182 reviews
Jim Harrison's latest collection of two novellas is Harrison at his most memorable: two men, one young and one older, confronting lost and new love, possibilities, endings, and the encroachment of civilization on nature. In The Land of Unlikeness, Clive, a failed artist, divorced and grappling with aging, returns to his Michigan family's farmhouse to spell his sister's car ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Grove Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Tony
Four months ago, I had not yet read anything by Jim Harrison. This, The River Swimmer, is now the eighth book of his I've read since then. So, yes, I'm obsessed. These are two novellas, published in 2013. As usual, the plots are not that important, serving only as vehicles for Harrison to expound on Art and Literature, Nature and the Human Soul.

The Land of Unlikeness:

The protagonist, Clive, is a 60 year-old art history professor, appraiser and one-time artist. He is divorced, estranged (stupi
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Lou
The first story, The Land of Unkindness, may make you take up the pursuit of being an artist alongside the possible pursuit of various short periods of passion with woman of your liking.
You may even settle for a more less strenuous activity of seeking out a likewise story like that of Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller.
This story contains all of the above themes, stringed together with some great words in some nice sentences.

The second story, The River Swimmer, may make you take up the exercis
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Richard
Some authors write like angels, some like wizards, Philip Roth and Jim Harrison (who are so similar, but seem to be at opposite ends of a class divide,) write like the devil himself. Then there's Cormac, THE Prince of Darkness, but that's a digression I won't get into.

In The River Swimmer, Mr. Harrison gives us two coming of age stories, from two points on the spectrum of age. In the first, "The Land of Unlikeness," we spend time with a 60 year old art critic/professor, not-failed but resigned a
...more
Isabelle
As always, reading a sentence, any sentence written by Jim Harrison is a treat... so, reading two full novellas is a tremendous pleasure.
Both are equally engrossing, but in totally different ways. The first story is that of a failed artist rediscovering his real self at 60, and the second one that of a young man embracing his destiny. Both are splendidly written of course, and they are also full of tenderness and compassion towards the frailty and awkwardness of the human heart and mind.
Linda Robinson
One novella introduces us to Clive, failed artist turned art historian and lecturer, 60ish, returning to the family's Michigan farmhouse so his sister can take a trip to Europe, while Clive watches over their semi-blind bird-watching mother. Clive is available for this duty because of an unfortunate event involving yellow paint, although a palette of artistic mishaps brings him home to Michigan. The River Swimmer drops us in the water with Thad, born on an island farm in Michigan's U.P. At 17, T ...more
Betty
Harrison is a new writer to me, and although I know he has fervent followers, I can't understand the fuss. He was recommended to me as someone who writes well about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up, so I was disappointed to find that the setting was actually in the Lower Peninsula, a whole different kettle of fish.

The main character in the first novella, The Land of Unlikeness, is complete snob, with his name-dropping, his Fed-exed in prosciutto and French cheeses and "real bagel
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Stephen Durrant
Jim Harrison is one of those writers that I like without being quite willing to concede that he is a great writer. Something in his voice, however, very much appeals to me. Both of these stories strike close to home: I am a retired professor (the first story) and a compulsive swimmer (story two). But the personal attachment goes beyond that--in ways that derive, perhaps, from our similar age and similar interests. At any rate, these two novellas are well told, and each has a slightly different t ...more
Larraine
This is one of those books that the literary reviewers love. It's been a few years since I read "Julip," another book of novellas by Jim Harrison. I reserved this at our local library after reading a review. The title is actually the second novella. The two characters are as different as they can be and yet similar. The elder, Clive, is an artist while the younger, Thad, is a farm boy drawn to the river.

The first one, The Land of Unlikeness, is one that I particularly enjoyed. Admittedly, it ma
...more
Susan
A Michigan author, I am not sure why he calls Reed City and Big Rapids northern Michigan since that usually means at least Grayling and Traverse City, let alone the UP. His settings are familiar ground to me since I grew up mid-Michigan in the farm country he describes. I respond to his themes of nature grounding a person, his 62-year-old protagonist returning to his roots and what gives him pleasure after his chasing art history/appraisal/ lecturing as his career, and his depiction of the way l ...more
Stephen
Didn't make it to the first novella, the second one was just awful. There were a few great paragraphs early on, with the mystical fish babies and all, and the obsession with swimming had promise. Otherwise I thought Harrison really embarrassed himself here. Felt like notes for a future story that he didn't bother to actually write.

"The River Swimmer" had the melodramatic plot line of a dime-novel Western, without about as much character development as you'd expect to get in a penny-dreadful. Mig
...more
Charles
This was my fifth Harrison. Again novellas - two. The Land of Unlikeness and the title story. The second has a better title; the first is a better story.

It raised a number of artistic issues that I think about I think about theater, but I don't do it anymore. One thing I've often pondered is artistic movements and how they work their way through art. Also, how actors integrate personal experience into character. It seems obvious in writing, perhaps less so in the other arts. I'm also intereste
...more
John
This book consists of 2 novellas. I give the first, The land of Unlikeliness" 5 stars. In it he writes, "He was suddenly quite tired of the mythology he had constructed for his life." What a marvelous sentence. And like that sentence, this novella reminds me why I love reading Jim Harrison's older work, before he became full of himself. Here he's not trying to be too clever by half and too dismissive of his readers. This is a wonderful novella, as good as anything as Harrison has written before. ...more
Keith
This compilation of two novellas by Jim Harrison provides a fascinating perspective of time and the human condition. The first—The Land of Unlikeness—concerns an older man in his declining years unhappily reviewing his past, not necessarily as failure but rather as, accomplishing all he set out to achieve but finding no enjoyment in the result. He realizes that regardless of his professional success as a notable New York art appraiser and art history professor he was happiest when he was a paint ...more
Monica
The two novellas in this book are a study in contrasts. The land of Unlikeness takes Clive, a 60-something year old failed artist and successful critic and academic, from his comfortable Manhattan life back to the small farm in northern Michigan where he grew up. He's there to look after his bird watching, slightly dotty mother so his sister can spend a month in Europe - her first trip abroad. He reconnects with his family, his first love and his painterly self in ways that are both surprising a ...more
Tony
THE RIVER SWIMMER. (2013). Jim Harrison. ****.
Harrison is one of the finest writers we have working today. His output over the years has been significant and of consistently high quality. This latest volume collects two novellas which are not related to each other – except, perhaps, by comparison. In the first novela, “The Land of Unlikeness,” we meet Clive. Clive is a sixty-year-old man who teaches art at a prestigious eastern university, after having given up his initial career as an artist i
...more
Rick
Jim Harrison is one of my favorite writers and i would have like to give this a 4th star but only one of the two novellas contained in the collection rise to that level. Harrison is a truly interesting person and someone I would love to meet. He is a writer(obviously) but also an outdoorsman, gourmand andcocktail enthusiast with a tremendous bullshit detector.He writes about life from the perspective of somebody filled with great gusto. The first story in the collection is reall great in the Lan ...more
Bruce Roderick
I literally just finished THE RIVER SWIMMER and was once again blown away by Harrison's writing.

If you are a fan of Harrison's writing than his latest book THE RIVER SWIMMER won't disappoint you.

This book includes two novellas: THE LAND OF UNLIKENESS and THE RIVER SWIMMER. The first is a tale of an aging former professor of art that has returned home to visit his mother while reconvening with an old childhood flame. The character of Clive is similar to Cliff of THE ENGLISH MAJOR but less humoro
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Tom
Two novellas by a master of the form. The first, “The Land of Unlikeness” is an artful rumination of life in its third act. The protagonist-a one-time artist and more correctly and recently an “art-professional” is left to rediscover real life back home on the farm where memories lurk like living beings to pounce whenever his guard is down. We get the feeling that nothing experienced is ever “lost: just shunted aside by new experiences until the bite of a Madeleine-or in this case, pickled bolog ...more
Pamela
I don't know if it's me, the book, or the narrator, but after a couple of hours I find myself cringing when I press play. The main character is just such a pretentious, self-important, all-around twit that I can't feel anything but annoyed by him. Can't even work up a good dislike of him. Just annoyance.

I may give this a second chance later, but for now I have too many good audio books waiting to waste time on this.
Paul
Feb 28, 2013 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Wow. What an exceedingly strange "collection" (two novellas). Both of these are the most rattled-off-seeming works I've probably ever read, without being terrible. And this is by Harrison standards. The first novella has no real drive: an ex-painter goes to live with his mom for a bit and rediscovers painting. No real revelation, no nothing. Not that this is totally a bad thing, but. And the second (novella) is told in insanely straightforward, declarative sentences, with little to no emotion wh ...more
☔Diane S.
Four stars really for the first novella which was my favorite. Very unusual for me as it portrays a sixty year old man who still does not quite know how to deal with his life. Usually characters like this drive me crazy but there is something so humorous and self deprecating about this character that I really enjoyed his commentary. Coming home, shamed into taking care of his partially deaf bird watching mother, so his sister can take a trip to Europe he finally figures out who he is. Amazing. H ...more
Jennifer
There are two novellas here and the first one, The Land of Unlikeness, I enjoyed. Clive, a farm boy from Michigan, has given up painting and has become an art appraiser and professor. He returns to Michigan to take care of his elderly mother and reconnects with both a woman he once loved, and with his old love of painting. I liked the use of language, the discussion of paintings, of the creative process, and his "reawakening" to his old artistic sensibility.

I just couldn't get into the second n
...more
Earnest Thompson
A good book is always hard to put down but Jim Harrison books seen particularly so. These two long short stories (novellas) work well together in that the latter looks at life from the beginning of adulthood in the person of the 17 year old title character while the former is a 60 year old painter & art expert not so much looking back as deciding to live in the now. I found the first story much more compelling & readable and not just because I'm closer to 60 than 17. Its prose was simple ...more
Frances
The tagline attached to Jim Harrison’s “The River Swimmer” that caught my eye was “Among the most indelible American novelists of the last hundred years.” I had never heard of him. But it sounded like I should jump on board with this one and check him out. I couldn’t miss out on an unforgettable American voice. In sum, however, I feel that I could have.

"The River Swimmer" is two novellas about American men. One is in his prime and a voracious swimmer; the other used to be a painter and is in his
...more
Ross McMeekin
After reading Denis Johnson's wonderful novella Train Dreams I was inspired to do some more novella reading so I picked up The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison. They're not dissimilar--Johnson and Harrison--especially the first of the two novellas in Harrison's collection, "The Land of Unlikeness," about an aging artist returning home and coming to terms with the decisions he's made in his life and rediscovering the loves that propelled him away from home in the first place. Among the similarities ...more
CJ
I rated this 4/5 because there wasn't a 3.5/5 button and I liked his past work enough to round up. Jim Harrison is one of my favourite authors, and one of my influences... he seems to take the stripped down-storytelling style of Hemmingway and infuse his language with more meaning and unpretentious symbolism than most other modern American authors. I've only read four of his books so far (though I've read Legends of the Fall twice) and I always feel a peculiar rush of adrenaline when I pick up a ...more
Amelia
Here we have swift and clean activity slicing through the grungy accumulations of relationships and memories. I picked this one up, as I do, very randomly, and I might as well have stumbled on a goldmine. Being out of beloved Russo books, unable to concentrate on Roth, and not ready to take up my best friend's fav Richard Ford, I have discovered my next author. A very wizened book, nearly silly in some respects, and emotionally cultured as a hundred year old sour-dough.
Martin
Even at less than full steam and with seemingly no editing, Jim Harrison is nearly as good as anyone out there. I put those qualifiers because this, his umpteenth book, struck me a little sloppy: repeated words and repeated ideas not done to any (to my perception) positive effect. I wouldn't likely note this sort of thing with another writer, but I've never seen it in Harrison's work.

Still, these two novellas were not only engrossing, the first one, "The Land of Unlikeness," was, for me, inspir
...more
Deniz Kuypers
I've read plenty of Jim Harrison books to know they're mainly about appetite. Appetite for food, sex, beauty, nature, art (particularly painting and poetry); in short, appetite for life. They're almost hedonistic in that respect. What little plot they contain usually revolves around characters pursuing their appetites and being waylaid (often comically) in the process.

In Harrison's best works, this pursuit is paired with exquisite commentary about the American wilderness, about life on the cusp
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Cecilebe
Je n'ai jamais lu Jim Harrison mais ai bien l'intention de le faire après avoir terminé ce livre. Celui-ci regroupe deux nouvelles, sans liens apparents. Dans la première, "Au pays du sans pareil", Clive, ancien galeriste, professeur, passionné d'art et de littérature, rejoint sa maison d'enfance pour s'occuper de sa mère et se retrouve en proie à d'anciens souvenirs, d'anciens désirs. Peintre déçu et déchu, il se remet à ses premières amours et par ce biais, règle ses conflits intérieurs. Une n ...more
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Mansfield Public ...: The River Swimmer Review by Winnie Jackson 1 2 Jul 13, 2013 09:32AM  
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Jim Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers. He married Linda King in 1959 with whom he has two daughters.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

His awards include National Academy of Arts grants
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More about Jim Harrison...
Legends of the Fall Dalva The English Major Returning to Earth The Woman Lit By Fireflies

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“How wonderful it was to love something without the compromise of language.” 9 likes
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