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The Beast God Forgot to Invent: Novellas
by Jim Harrison
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802138365, Paperback)At 67, Norman Arnz is well aware of his narrative limitations: "I dare say that no one understands more than the part of the story that is directly contiguous to them." Yet the conjunction of placement and perception is crucial to both him and his tale. The title novella in Jim Harrison's The Beast God Forgot to Invent takes the form of Arnz's written report explaining the death by drowning of a lifetime resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Slow, different, backward--Joe Lacort had been labeled all these and more since a car accident illustrated "the Newtonian principle that an object in motion (your head) tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced or unequal force (in Joe's case, a massive gray beech tree)."
What Arnz realizes, to his dismay and envy, is that this man "had crossed over a line into an otherness of perception that was unavailable to the rest of us," that his "sense of time has become hopelessly round while ours is linear." Joe's story, told as Arnz circles back and back, questing for original cause, is the story of mapping oneself and one's place in a profoundly captivating--and dislocating--universe. "Maybe," he ponders, "the world really doesn't look like the one I've been seeing all along. That was one of the questions Joe offered." These questions, and answers, are relayed by an astonishing voice: Harrison gives his narrator an oddly intoxicating blend of E.B. White's wry irony and perfectly matter-of-fact precision and Humbert Humbert's solipsistic bravura and edgy suspiciousness.
And the other two novellas are equally engaging. In "Westward Ho," a Michigan Native American finds himself on a quixotic quest through Los Angeles in pursuit of a stolen bearskin. An assortment of jaded Sancho Panzas aid (I use the term loosely) Brown Dog in his search. Sentimental without being trite, the story soars easily above potential "small-town Indian, big city" limitations. "I Forgot to Go to Spain" returns to a first-person narrator, a glib biographer suspicious that "the language I was using to describe myself to myself might be radically askew."
Harrison is a rare beast, an author whose ideas are at once grand and simple. His prose is so tantalizingly right that you might be tempted to gather his sentences and fling yourself into their midst, just for the sheer pleasure of it all. --Kelly Flynn
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:35 -0400)
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