The Ancient Minstrel

Jim Harrison. Grove, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2456-2
Though this latest collection of novellas is one of his slimmer efforts, Harrison (Brown Dog) still has one of the most companionable voices in American letters. The first two entries in this collection revolve around animal husbandry—an aging writer in the grip of a “pig trance” and a woman’s lifelong “chicken obsession.” The rangy title novella tells the story of “America’s best-loved geezer,” a figure very much like Jim Harrison, who is looking back on his “50-year slavery to language.” Restless, losing his once prodigious libido, and beset by recurring nightmares, the narrator impulsively decides to raise pigs, a late-life crisis manifested in a desire to become the “prince of free-range pork.” It’s a loose, low-key reminiscence that affords some amusing glimpses into the writer’s psyche. In “Eggs,” Catherine, a woman living by herself on a Montana farm, finds herself in thrall to a biological impulse to reproduce. Catherine is a strange, independent, and phlegmatic heroine whose story steadily accrues emotional weight as we learn about her alcoholic father, her unhinged brother, her harrowing experience in London during the Blitz, and her romance with a wounded British soldier. Harrison revives his Detective Sunderson in “The Case of the Howling Buddhas.” Now retired but no less libidinous, “an old boy on the loose again,” Sunderson is enlisted to look into a mountebank cult leader, though the real drama involves the detective’s illegal dalliance with a 15-year-old girl. This last novella is also the weakest, the shaggy-dog mystery fitting uneasily with the salacious, and not particularly convincing, erotic plot. Agent: Steve Sheppard, Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLC. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/18/2016
Release date: 03/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-8021-2634-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-5046-8507-8
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