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The River Swimmer: Novellas

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,406 Ratings  ·  243 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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Nov 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: u-s-lit, jim-harrison, art
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
Feb 02, 2013 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
Dec 18, 2012 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
Simon Robs
Apr 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Another, another. More JH character as JH's likes/dislike's and predominating latest bent descried as He/his character Clive make amends to past and nods to now's. His roots are in northern Michigan a place as roughed-up as he is and coven in its ways mythical. Art front/center woodsy familial tale left apace.

"TRS" a JH knock/off "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" but not really. Magic realism not his normal fare but here it serves his watery penchant to the gills, though Thad the eponymous river strok
Feb 19, 2013 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 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 10, 2013 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
Mind the Book
Alla dessa vägar som leder fram till böcker. En sen kväll tryckte jag som vanligt på poddknappen för att lyssna på 'Tankar för dagen'. I klippningen hade en liten snutt av detta program kommit med och jag noterade titeln 'The Land of Unlikeness', vilket är den första av två novellor i denna utgåva.

Ett exempel på en enastående förmåga att gestalta. Ibland blir det för mycket information, när varenda erektion ska redovisas i en positively philiproth:esque
Jan 27, 2013 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 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
Feb 25, 2013 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
Mar 03, 2014 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
Jun 18, 2014 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
Stephen Durrant
Apr 07, 2014 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
Sep 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Novellas and short stories are not my favorites for reading. This book is two novellas in one book. I actually liked both stories for this one reason. I liked how the author described how outside pleasures become a part on who we are. When we lose sight of those things that bring us joy, we lose a piece of ourselves. I thought that was beautifully done in both of these stories. But the first one was my favorite.

I have another book by this author, which is collection of short stories. I'm hoping
Jan 13, 2013 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
Mar 26, 2013 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 07, 2014 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
Bruce Roderick
Jan 03, 2013 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
Jul 30, 2014 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
Dec 27, 2012 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
Feb 15, 2013 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
Jun 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This volume consists of two novellas, the titular The River Swimmer (known elsewhere as Water Baby) and the superior (and twice as long) The Land of Unlikeliness. (I should point out that Jon Billman in his review disagrees with me but each to his own.) Although Clive, the protagonist in the latter, is three times as old as Thad, the teenage swimmer, both books are, at their heart, about teen-somethings. Living our lives day by day it’s often hard to identify the moments we’ll later on look back ...more
Jan 22, 2013 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
Diane S ☔
Dec 10, 2012 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 21, 2015 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.
Jun 16, 2013 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.
Rachel Brune
Feb 15, 2016 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.
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 !
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of his more magical stories. I loved it.
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Mansfield Public ...: The River Swimmer Review by Winnie Jackson 1 2 Jul 13, 2013 09:32AM  
River Swimmer 1 13 Jan 31, 2013 08:20AM  
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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.” 15 likes
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