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True North

(True North #1)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,941 ratings  ·  186 reviews
True North is the story of a family torn apart and a man engaged in profound reckoning with the damage scarred into the American soil. The scion of a family of wealthy timber barons, David Burkett has grown up with a father who is a malevolent force more than a father, and a mother made vague and numb by alcohol and pills. He and his sister, Cynthia, a firecracker who scan ...more
Hardcover, 388 pages
Published April 8th 2004 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published 2004)
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3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,941 ratings  ·  186 reviews

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May 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read this at the perfect time which is to say after having read several volumes of his novellas, it was helpful to have a meaningful understanding of the themes that seem to concern Mr. harrison. Harrison strikes me as a special writer in terms of a particular kindness to his readers. He always intends delivers the goods to his readers in the form of a dynamic narrative. His stories are variously entertaining, his characters I certainly find endearing. Supporting his narrative is a lot of hard ...more
Carl R.
May 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
I’ve done it again, I think. I’ve probably missed out and misjudged. Jim Harrison seems to be an author of some note and some longevity. His books have been responsible for a couple of movies, one of which (Legends of the Fall) I’ve heard of, though not seen. However, I’d never heard of either True North, nor of Jim Harrison till my neighbor dropped the novel on my porch. What’s more, judging by this book, I’m not inclined to explore the his work further.
We join our protagonist, David Burkett
Colleen O'Neill Conlan
Oct 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
So good! I find myself very drawn to Harrison's writing and storytelling. This is different from the three novellas in Legends of the Fall. With those there was a beautiful remote distance in the telling, while this first-person narration feels more intimate.

Here, young David Burkett IV, coming from a family with great wealth on both sides, takes it as his life's mission to understand and fully examine how his forbears, land barons who logged and mined in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, exploi
Tim Lepczyk
Writing is about making choices. We choose what to write about, from whose perspective to tell a story, and what we want our audience to take away from the narrative. In looking at, True North, let's examine the choices Harrison made. He chose this novel to be in the first person. The events are narrated by, David Burkett, the wealthy son from a family that logged and mined the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for three generations. Why use first person for this novel? What does it achieve?

First pers
A disturbing yet satisfying read. As with all Harrison fiction (this is my sixth), you are immersed in the painful moral struggles of his protagonist, in this case the life long journey of David to come to terms with the evils of his ancestors and father. They made their money clearcutting vast areas of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and his father became an alcoholic and sexual predator. David has a good heart, but finds no clear pathway to make amends or forge a healthy family of his own. Instead ...more
Nov 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
True North is a young man's search for answers regarding the destruction of thousands of acres of White Pines in Northern Michigan, and his ancestors' greed. Mining was another ruthless endeavor of greed throughout the Burkett ancestors. David Burkett's life reveals a deep and complicated story of overwhelming circumstances, both in his family, and his personal life. Alcoholism and rape are examples of sinister situations included in this account of the Burkett family.

I'm impressed with Jim Harr
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This was a great story, a little gloomy, but so well told, that I just loved it. Its so interesting not only the things we choose to take on in this life, but our ways of going about it as well. Sometimes we take on burdens that aren't ours because we feel like we have to or we actually believe they are ours. And we get so accustomed to being the way we are that it's extremely difficult to change.

The characterization was wonderful, though I would certainly hope to not be any of the characters i
Jan 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book that I read of Harrison's, back when I was 24 (I bought it for the title as I'm a native of Northern Michigan). It took a while to get used to the writing but was a literary watershed for me; Harrison is now, by far, my favorite author. I agree that a lot of the plot elements occur early but the plot is secondary to how it affects Burkett. If some of those elements occurred later, we couldn't see how fully they integrate themselves into his life and perception of life. I' ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

"True North," says the Boston Globe, "has its moments," which sums up general reaction to this novel. Almost everyone found something to like, be it the passionate narration or the novel's strong sense of place. However, most reviewers also found serious flaws. While some praised Harrison's writing, a few pointed out its sloppiness. And nearly all were frustrated with the novel's structure, complaining that Harrison reveals key events too early and allows the story to founder as Burkett painstak

With Barry Lopez and Marilynne Robinson, Harrison was one of three authors I remember hearing discussed in glowing terms by my Interlochen friends but somehow felt I'd missed out on at the time. I rectified that quickly with Lopez and a bit later with Robinson, but somehow never took the Harrison recommendation as seriously. Which was obviously a huge mistake, because this is a bit of a revelation. True North gets a fair amount of free points from me by sheer coincidence of its myriad commonalit ...more
Dec 03, 2010 rated it liked it
"My father had closed the windows to the world and I was spending my life struggling to open them." So goes the story of David Burkett, a U.P. native struggling to come to terms with his family's history, his father's perverted transgressions, and his own place in the big picture.

True North begins with a three-quarters page italicized prologue that feels right away like an (the?) ending. Occurring in the dawn hours after an awful act of violence, the short scene is sad, disturbing, and quite pos
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
As of late, I've been noticing a strange sight in NYC—the appearance of many bushily-bearded men, clad in woolen plaid lumberjack shirts, their pants held up by suspenders as they saunter through the urban wilderness that is Brooklyn waiting to fell a tree or, perhaps, to whittle a trinket for a lovely lady, should the mood strike them. They can often be found in the local watering hole that specializes in artisanal beers or attempting to start a campfire in the park while simultaneously being h ...more
Adam Szczepanski
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So many times I wanted to devalue this book and felt like it was hack and deserving of much less than five stars, but in the end I’m a Harrison sucker and his storytelling wins out.

Why hack? As a Yooper and Marquette resident so many of the geographical references were forced and seemed to be added to prove Harrison’s knowledge of the U.P. In short, it seemed pretentious to add so many anecdotal names and places to this work of fiction.

In the end, like all of his books the prose is beautiful a
Melinda Charles
Jun 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I usually like Jim Harrison and looked forward to reading this book. His description of and sense of place, in this case, the beautiful and remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the magic aura of Lake Superior, were superb. However, the introspection of the main character went on so long, I got bored. Not one of my favorites.
Joseph D'Lacey
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I decided not to read past p50.

Clearly, many readers have enjoyed True North but I found the prose flabby, the story meandering and the protagonist bland.

Grove/Atlantic should take responsibility for the poor copy editing. In addition, pruning 30% of the text would enhance the pace.

Wish I could have enjoyed it more.
Linda Robinson
Dec 14, 2015 rated it did not like it
"Making money is never very pretty." David Burkett's father said, who as near as I can make out never made the money he spends lasciviously. He inherited it. David Burkett inherited the guilt that goes along with pater familias scarring the land on both sides of his ancestry. I thought this was a new Harrison novel, finding it on the new book shelf, but it was published in 2004, so I am a little relieved to offload some of the machismo rife in the book. Harrison is older now, and a little more m ...more
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
Another fantastic, meditative book from probably my favorite living writer. The novel begins with a crazy italicized intro, then launches into the story of a young boy's quest to make sense of his crazy family. The first hundred-fifty pages or so are the best, until David, the protagonist, goes off on his own and we get the typical meandering, near-plotless Harrison stuff, aside from David's "project," a purported manuscript about evils of his father/grandfather/etc. It's all great, though David ...more
Jan 03, 2008 rated it it was ok
Jim Harrison is one of my favorite writers, but this novel seemed to explore territory that was all too familiar from his other works——not a bad thing, but not a good sign of what's to come as Jim gets into the later innings of his life. This book is about an old-money family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, sex, food, travel, history, and nature, all of which are familiar elements of Harrison's work. I'll next be reading "Returning To Earth," which is a sequel of sorts to this book and repor ...more
Kathleen (itpdx)
The story is told from the point of view of a young "trust fund" man. He is the fourth generation of a family that made a fortune logging and mining the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His father is unapologetically generationally privileged. This David is driven to fight his way clear of the attitude and cocoon that his father lives and acts in. The father acts badly and gets off with light or little punishment because of his name and money. The protagonist finds a path researching the history of ...more
Oct 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
A good book by what I hope to be the first of my readings from Harrison. The ending was dissapointing, however upon thinking about it I realized it was this dissapointment that made it so conclusive and really added another aspect to the story overall.
There was too much sex in the story, and the authors view on religion was neither bad nor good but rather tossed aside as an after thought which bugged me. Religion is necessary, either the hate or love of God drives most lives- apathy is short liv
Jul 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
I just couldn't relate to this book or to its seeminly self-obsessed main character. I read that Harrison considers Americans obscenely plot-obsessed (or something like that)and for me, the repetition of plot as David moves from place to place in the UP and woman to woman, made finishing it a chore. The only reason I didn't quit was that, being "plot obsessed," I wanted to find out how the ending, which Harrison reveals at the beginning of the book (why?) fit with the story. I will admit that th ...more
Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Niiiiiiice. Yup. Grew up in Northern Mi and appreciated the understanding of the the atmosphere (logging / post logging culture). It is part of who you are if you spent time there. You'd hike and see remnants of logging camps, etc. The opening and closing had very different perspectives based on where you were as a reader - clearly the point. Enjoyable.
Lauren Albert
Feb 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
This didn't quite cohere for me. The character didn't cohere for me either. The relationships between the characters, the obsession of the narrator with his family's past, the ending--none of these quite worked for me (didn't feel "true" somehow). The writing wasn't as good as in Harrison's other books that I've read.
Eric Sutton
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Harrison's voice is one of a rambling, intellectual, American male. But I love it. There's a point to his books, especially his novels, that can be hard to see at first. They have a narrative purpose and central conflict to solve, although as the book goes on, they remain increasingly elusive. In True North, with David Burkett, it's this lofty prospect of recording the history of his family's business, which was basically destroying tens of thousands of acres of virgin timber in the Upper Penins ...more
Brett Warnke
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
David Burkett, a hapless but good-natured hermit son of Michigan timber barons in the U.P., is the first-person narrator of this very fine novel by the poet and novelist Jim Harrison. At one point in "True North," upon visiting a former lover in Paris, David is unable to sleep and remembers that the French refer to this as "black butterflies" in the mind. "True North" is, on every page, alive with the flutterings and wingbeats the narrator's black butterflies--anxiety at becoming his awful fathe ...more
John Thorndike
Jan 24, 2018 rated it liked it
We’re a long way here from the prose of Dalva or A Good Day to Die. Writers evolve, and that’s fine. They decide that commas are overrated, and sometimes they’re right. But I never adjusted to the sluggish push of True North. It felt like a big heavy river moving past its banks, the muddy water swirling downstream, but barely.

Sentences like the following, a couple of pages in, got me off to a bad start: “I wasn’t quite eighteen years old when I declared my intentions to Lake Superior on a stormy
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's rare that the first page of a book catches me so completely off guard.

I'm going soon to visit my friend in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) of Michigan and she said, "I recommend Jim Harrison's True North for some pre-vacation reading" so of course I picked it up from the library. Not knowing what to expect I just settled on the idea that perhaps it was some vaguely madcap lightweight fiction piece that happened to be set up there and, I don't know, maybe mentioned the city in which she lives or
May 29, 2018 rated it liked it
A very few of us are sheltered from male sexual behavior gone unleashed, “rogue”. Some of us learned that the sins of the father infect the sons. These sons are inured to the sordidness of their sexual preferences, because their fathers set this weird example. As I grew older, the more disgusted I felt. Of course, the weapon of beauty and allure became past tense. Our higher senses find this behavior completely untoward yet, inappropriate age preferences, incest and molestation across the board ...more
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Worth the read and enjoyable at that, but I've read better and worse by Jim Harrison. Burkett meanders through life both unimpressed and enabled by his inherited fortune from his family's deceitful logging business. He's trying to understand the ugliness they've caused and there is both vile and innocent lust all over this book, making for dramatic and juvenile scenes.

For me the meandering plot is True North's strength and Jim Harrison's mastery. He writes about breathing and living, not plot t
Our book club is traveling across a Literary Map of the U.S. and Harrison’s True North was the book chosen for Michigan. There is no question that the book captures the U.P. of Michigan but the central character and his quest just did not hold my interest. While I didn’t have an issue with David’s polemic against his father, the family greed and their part in the deforestation of the U.P., I did have a problem with its repeated reference with little elucidation. I should also admit that I have n ...more
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True North 2 10 Aug 03, 2011 09:04AM  

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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

Other books in the series

True North (2 books)
  • Returning to Earth
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“Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.”
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” 0 likes
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