cover image Brown Dog

Brown Dog

Jim Harrison. Grove, $27 (528p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2011-3

This essential collection of six novellas (including the never-before-published “He Dog”) offers an omnibus look at Brown Dog, a pure Harrison creation and a glorious character who will make readers howl with delight. From his first scuffling introduction in The Woman Lit by Fireflies, this boozy, backwoods, tree-cutting, snow-shoveling part–Native American from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula wins over his audience with a bawdy, sometimes thoughtful tone. In these stories, he shambles from a day-to-day set of misadventures arising from some illegal salvage diving to a loopy picaresque jaunt through Los Angeles (“I just want my bearskin back,” he says), to something much more profound and redemptive, standing in as a father figure to several vulnerable Indian and partially Indian children, despite the absence of much paternal influence in his own life. When a girlfriend tells him he’s “involved in failure as a habit,” Brown Dog says, “I never felt I did all that badly at life.” He mentions a youth spent as a bare-knuckle fighter, but his greatest successes are usually horizontal, as he manages a string of unlikely, often alcohol-fueled sexual conquests, from Shelley the anthropologist, who schemes to get him to reveal the location of an ancient Indian burial mound, to a lonely Jewish dentist who wants to “go at it like canines unmindful of the noise they made.” Often moving, frequently funny, these 500 pages offer the best way to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with one of literature’s great characters. (Dec.)