The River Swimmer: Novellas
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The River Swimmer: Novellas

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  601 ratings  ·  144 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
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Erik Simon
Quite simply, I am never more content than when I'm reading Jim Harrison. He's just the one for me. Wars rage on, the globe gets dangerously warmer, idiot bankers walk us steadily toward our next financial collapse abetted by venal Congressmen, children die needlessly, the Huskers wallow in mediocrity under a fascist moron for a coach, Lloyd Blankfein, Jaime Dimon, Alan Greenspan and Bob Rubin still go untortured for all the harm they've inflicted on humanity, energy companies find new and impro...more
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 (stupid...more
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...more
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
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
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.
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
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
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...more
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
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
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
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
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
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...more
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
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
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
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.
Jim Harrison’s books are treasures for readers who value a good story. The River Swimmer is no exception. Actually two novellas, the first being The Land of Unlikeness, followed by the title story. In The Land of Unlikeness we encounter Clive, a failed artist and aging art professor who returns to his boyhood home where encounters with his first love and his mother all coalesce into a rumination on aging, creativity, sex and love. Perhaps inspired by his youthful memories, Clive decides to begin...more
Bob Mustin

The novella has been around for a long while; it remains as popular in Great Britain and Europe as it has been in the first half of the U.S.’s twentieth century. For readers, the popularity stems from its abbreviated length, its compact style that some writers and editors compare with the longer short stories. The difficulty for writers is two-fold, I think: you’re tempted to let the piece be static in structure, or you find yourself leaving great gaps in characterization or story line, gaps tha...more
Read a book review in Outside Magazine that inspired me to pick up this text. Two novellas.
In "The Land of Unlikeness," Clive takes an involuntary leave of absence from his academic world following an unfortunate encounter with an Art Tart. At his sister's insistence, he is using the time to visit his elderly bird-watching mother at his childhood home in Michigan. Clive is a sixty year old, sullen, sort of whining narrator that just never landed well with me. Lots of references to his impressio...more
Harrison, at his most mesmerizing
Jim Harrison writes. I read what he writes. That’s been our relationship.

Of late, it seems to me, his writing has become outsized – more crude than comic and preoccupied more and more with geezer hood, its lusty appetites for food, wine and women bloated and out of control. I’ve been enjoying his work not as much as I had.

Up until I picked up the “River Swimmer.” He’s gotten his unbridled enthusiasms and lustiness a little bit in check. And his writing is better...more
I suspect I'm not the only one who thinks that poets sometimes use obscurity to obfuscate rather than clarify, that in dimly delineated language we are to presuppose a deep significance that is not in fact inherent in it. This suspicion was heightened by these two novellas, written by the much-praised poet Jim Harrison, neither of which is particularly accomplished as a work of fiction, both of which use this factor of murkiness in an attempt to make them more weighty than they are.

The first, Th...more
Michael Katz
The woods of Michigan have produced some great fiction, from Ernest Hemmingway to Tom McGuane, and Jim Harrison is in top form with his two novellas in The River Swimmer. The stories and protagonists seem exact opposites. In The Land of Unlikeness, the longer of the two, Clive, who has long ago quit painting for a successful Manhattan career as an art critic and appraiser, returns to tend to his mother on the family farm. Stung by a failed marriage, estranged from his daughter, he is facing an u...more
Dan Mccoig
The River Swimmer is one of the two novellas in this volume. I can't decide if it is the better of the two. Thad is the river swimmer. Set in the north woods of Michigan, River Swimmer tells the story of Thad's love of waters and his goal of swimming all of the world's rivers. One of the more enigmatic aspects of the story is the water babies. Tooth, a Chippewa woman and friend of Thad's family, teaches Thad that water babies -- water spirits -- are what become of children who die in infancy. Th...more
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Dan Fuchs
I'm struggling for connections between the two novellas that make up this volume. The writing itself is uniformly good; Harrison is clearly a master of the English language, and some of his passages captivate. In fact, my response to these works is more about me, the reader, than the author. In this way, I can thank Harrison for helping me know more about myself than I did before.

In the first long story/short novel, titledThe Land of Unlikeness, we are made to follow the misadventures of a midd...more
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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...more
More about Jim Harrison...
Legends of the Fall The English Major Dalva Returning to Earth The Woman Lit By Fireflies

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“How wonderful it was to love something without the compromise of language.” 4 likes
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