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The River Swimmer: Novellas

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  1,155 Ratings  ·  213 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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Jan 16, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, u-s-lit, jim-harrison
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
Jan 30, 2013 Lou rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, short-stories
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
Feb 02, 2013 Richard rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
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
Feb 19, 2013 Bet rated it did not like it
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
Jan 12, 2013 Isabelle rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 28, 2013 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 29, 2013 Rick rated it liked it
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
Jan 27, 2013 Susan rated it liked it
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 Durrant
Apr 07, 2014 Stephen Durrant rated it really liked it
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
Jun 24, 2014 Stephen rated it it was ok
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
Mar 03, 2014 John rated it liked it
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
Feb 25, 2013 Larraine rated it liked it
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
Aug 11, 2014 Charles rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-14
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
Jan 07, 2014 Keith rated it really liked it
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
Jan 27, 2014 Monica rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 13, 2013 Tony rated it really liked it
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
Bruce Roderick
Dec 19, 2013 Bruce Roderick rated it really liked it
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
Jan 27, 2013 Tom rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 21, 2015 Pamela rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
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.
Rachel Brune
Feb 16, 2016 Rachel Brune rated it really liked it
The prose of the two novellas is spare without becoming disconnected, philosophical without becoming esoteric, and strong without becoming overbearing. As with all of Jim Harrison's work, the idea of the artist as a creature of nature is drawn in his uniquely masculine prose. I definitely recommend spending time with this book.
Feb 28, 2013 Paul rated it liked it
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
J'ai enfin découvert Jim Harrison grâce à cet ouvrage que j'ai vraiment apprécié ! J'ai été par contre décontenancée, croyant avoir affaire à un roman, alors qu'il s'agissait de deux nouvelles. Mais j'ai apprécié les deux !
Diane S ☔
Dec 20, 2012 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
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
Jul 01, 2013 Jennifer rated it liked it
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
Earnest Thompson
Oct 08, 2014 Earnest Thompson rated it really liked it
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
Jul 15, 2014 Frances rated it it was ok
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
Ross McMeekin
Jun 11, 2014 Ross McMeekin rated it really liked it
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
Sep 29, 2014 CJ rated it really liked it
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
Sep 16, 2013 Amelia rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 25, 2014 Martin rated it liked it
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
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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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“How wonderful it was to love something without the compromise of language.” 12 likes
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