Claudia Putnam's Reviews > The Ancient Minstrel

The Ancient Minstrel by Jim Harrison
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I kind of gave up on Harrison some years ago... too much of a sameness... though I loved his earlier work. I stopped after The Woman Lit By Fireflies. Not out of any real objection, just well... how many Tom Petty songs can you listen to, or countenance buying? NOT comparing Harrison and Petty, just saying that each kind of carries on at the same level with himself after a while.

Maybe it's the same with most writers.

But I did read this one because I am writing novellas myself these days and Harrison is, or has been, quite good in this form, and I thought it might be smart to take another look.

I would have been better served, I think, to go back to one of the earlier ones. In this collection, we are really just reading through sequences of events, ending with today's fashion of trailing off into nothingness, except for the final piece in which the MC's troubles with lust get him killed, in a way.

The middle story is the strongest, IMO, because it comes closest to being a story, and because it covers events external to just the character's own head, though the character is a bit over the top what with sleeping in chicken coops. (I like chickens myself, but even the best-kept coops of the free-est ranging birds really do stink.) Still it ends with ... well, as if the air has been let out. You can make a case for this, of course, and many do, Eliot himself, not with a bang but a whimper. Which would be fine if there had been more drama leading up to the whimper, such as the gunpowder plot and the torture and execution of Guy Fawkes. But in these stories Harrison deliberately mutes what drama there might have been, even the London Blitz, not so much keeping an emotional distance as detuning the emotion.

The first story is something like Philip Roth turned relentlessly inward, god help us all. What is there were no theme of race or resiliency to meditate upon as the character wrestled with sexuality in the aging male? Well, here you go. Lots of great quotables and meditations upon creativity in general, but otherwise... a lot of whimpering, and certainly not as interesting as Harrison thinks it is, IMO, and I suppose based on stories I have heard credible, but based on pictures you see of Harrison, certainly hard for ME to believe. Ditto the last story, with the 15-yr-old nymph throwing herself at the aging Harrison-like guy. THAT dude at least doesn't sound as though he has let himself go quite so much as the obviously autobiographical personage in the first tale, so... maybe. Kids can have their own motives, and it's up to adults to be adults. In the confusion of the last dregs of one's sexuality, perhaps it's even harder to know how to manage adulthood. I don't know.

It would have been interesting to have seen this and actually all three of these books fleshed out to actual novels. Because they felt like outlines.
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Quotes Claudia Liked

Jim Harrison
“The world gave one so many reasons to be pissed off at it.”
Jim Harrison, The Ancient Minstrel

Jim Harrison
“At heart he was a secret Quaker and football was pure violence. The coach was always telling him to “hit them harder.” The coach wanted him to put opposing players “out of commission.” He kept it to himself but wondered what the point of the “game” was if your intention was to hurt people badly.”
Jim Harrison, The Ancient Minstrel

Jim Harrison
“He had always thought that a Native American should have shot Robert Frost for the outrageous lie of the line “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” What a scandal that would be, America’s best-loved geezer falling in a battle over poetry.”
Jim Harrison, The Ancient Minstrel


Reading Progress

April 18, 2016 – Started Reading
April 18, 2016 – Shelved
May 8, 2016 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
May 8, 2016 – Finished Reading

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