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The Road Home (1998)

by Jim Harrison

Series: Dalva (2)

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462638,773 (4.22)93
Five members of the Northridge family narrate the epic of their history on the Nebraska plains.



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A story of a family. In it we meet, through their own words, John Wesley Northridge II,his son Paul, his daughter-in-law Naomi, Naomi's daughter Dalva, and Dalva's son Nelse. Other members of the family are mentioned by these five to fill out the family tree.

All of the entries are in the form of journals, journals that others know are being kept. The story begins with large entries by JW II, who is nearing death and writing about the past. We learn about his love of nature, his thoughts for his granddaughter Dalva and his son JW III. We learn that he has accumulated much in his life and is ready to leave it behind.

Interestingly, others in the family do not see JW II the same way he himself does. He is described as cold and demanding. Certainly there is some affection there but it is tempered.

Each of the entries brings us into the life of that person and his or her feelings for others and for nature. They all share, to different extents, a love of the outdoors and of birds in particular. Nelse even methodically makes notes of the birds he encounters on his wanderings, as if for a study (yet he does not undertake official studies).

I found that the writing style was much the same for all, yet that did not bother me. I have read other books where the different characters are created with very different voices yet I don't think this book suffers from the similarity in voice. The thoughts differ, even as they are expressed in similar sentence forms. There is enough detail that I felt I had entered each life and was there with that family member for that time.

It is a beautifully written book. One that I think should not be hurried. It is, as much as anything, a book about how to die, yet it is much more than that. It lingers, along with its lessons. ( )
  slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
My favorite book. While my list of "favorites" is usually fluid, this book is always #1. Harrison was at the top of his considerable game with this generational saga. ( )
  dja4th | Apr 17, 2017 |
This is one of the few books I have read more than once! And for good reason. Harrison's understanding of the history and natural history of this region, fantastic use of multiple perspectives, and characterisation make this such a rewarding read. I'll admit, I struggled with it at times, particularly the prose style of Dalva's grandfather, but it was worth it. This sounds sad, but you actually miss the characters when you finish it, which shows how well developed they are. I need to dig out my copy of Dalva now which I fear may be lost! Problem is it's q-hard to get hold of Harrison's writing over in the UK. Damm shame! ( )
1 vote midlandsowl | Jul 8, 2008 |
A decade after the stunning Dalva, Harrison returns to the Northridge family of Nebraska in a saga that spans three generations of stoic loss, intermittent happiness and a healing proximity to the natural world. Tough old patriarch John Northridge narrates the first and strongest section, an apologia for the life he has led, first as a youth between two cultures (he is the son of a white father and a Lakota Sioux mother), then as a sensitive art student and, for most of his life, as a formidable rancher and cattle farmer, husband, father and grandfather. Northridge's life has paralleled the development of the Great Plains, and his intimate connection with the land humanizes his often cruel behavior to his wife, who left him, and his surviving son, Paul (his favorite son, Dalva's father, was killed in the Korean war). Other narrators are nomadic Nelse, the son Dalva gave up for adoption when she was 15, who finds her when he is 30; Naomi, Dalva's mother; Paul; and the still headstrong Dalva herself. As one expects of Harrison, the characters all share an instinctive love for the their native landscape and for the horses, dogs and birds that evoke their most treasured memories. With an unforced lucidity, the novel explores the tension between the Native American and white cultures, the effects of art and poetry on one's conception of existence and the very purpose of existence viewed from "the grace of the divinely ordinary" life. Two miscalculations flaw the novel. One is the sameness of the narrative voice, with all the characters, male and female, speaking in the same indistinguishable Midwestern cadences. The other is that, in attempting to reflect the quality of Nebraskan life, Harrison lets his characters describe their mundane experiences in meticulous but often pedestrian detail. While he thus stitches a fabric of impressive strength and depth, the narrative sometimes becomes tedious. Yet readers who let themselves be captured by the novel's breadth?from the late 1800s to 1987?and the memorable depictions of stalwart people striving to understand their destinies, will be rewarded by a deep and nourishing story.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. (Publishers Weekly)
  CollegeReading | Jun 20, 2008 |
Stunning. This book left me shaken and wishing the characters could stay with me just a bit longer. My grandfather introduced me to Jim Harrison this winter and I will always be incredibly grateful. One of the best location/genealogical centered novels I've read since One Hundred Years of Solitude. Harrison knows his characters and the Nebraska country well. Nothing is romantic or overdrawn about this. Just raw, beautiful and devastating.

A plus ( )
1 vote kyleblack | Feb 18, 2007 |
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Dalva (2)
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To Peter and Molly Phinny
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It is easy to forget that in the main we die only seven times more slowly than our dogs.
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Five members of the Northridge family narrate the epic of their history on the Nebraska plains.

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