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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seeing the Year Out with Old Friends

Is it possible for anyone with a heart to remain unmoved by the lyrics put to paper by the incomparable Robert Burns, sung to the yearning traditional Scottish melody?
The first book in my Books Read list for 2016 was Jim Harrison’s latest – and last, as it turned out -- book of poetry, Dead Man’s Float. For months after the release of The Ancient Minstrel, a volume of novellas that came out in time to be reviewed shortly before his death, I put off opening that book at all. Then sometime in the summer it occurred to me that I should save it for the end of the year, thus bookending the year with Harrison. And so I did, and so now, for the first time, I am reading Jim’s last book of very autobiographical fiction and missing him and Linda (as I often do, truth be told) all over again.

The title novella in The Ancient Minstrel took me by surprise. It took my breath away and made my heart ache. I hadn’t known it would be so personal! And I can picture so many of the scenes, too – in Lake Leelanau, up in the U.P., down in Patagonia, Arizona. (The Montana settings are the only ones I don’t know firsthand, only from movies and previous books of Jim’s.) And the voice, of course, is pure Jim.

Linda was not a letter-writer, but I used to write to her once in a while, and once in a while she would call me on the phone. I will always be grateful to the Fates for bringing the four of us together again for an evening in Arizona in the spring of 2015, going on two years ago now. Now there will be no more letters or postcards or phone calls, no more wine poured or bread broken together.

But I have – we all have – Jim’s books, and I cannot express the depth of my gratitude for that. He got his work done. He left us poems and stories, himself and his life distilled on pages, and because of that, and for old times’ sake, I am able to close out this year with my old friends. Ah, yes, we will, in our house tonight: We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne!

Travel safely, if you travel.


Barbara Stark-Nemon said...

What a lovely tribute to a favorite author.. I miss him too. How much deeper the missing must be for you, as a personal friend.

Dawn said...

I've often thought how lucky grown children are if their parents were artists or actors or musicians or writers because there would be such a wealth of their "voices" after they are gone. I'm glad you have his books as well as great memories.

P. J. Grath said...

I finished the book about 9:30 p.m., 12/31/2016, and David started reading it the next day. Thank you for reading and commenting, Barbara and Dawn. I wish you both many happy memories to warm your winter days and nights.

sassafras said...

Hello Pam,
I believe my favorite story from that book was the final one, Eggs. Reading all of one author's work over time is something I've done with just a handful of writers, but they remain my go to, only if to reread them again. Jim Harrison, Rick Baas, Colette, and Bonnie Jo Campbell are those who come to mind this morning.

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Sass! Happy new year! "Eggs" was the middle novella in the collection. I liked it a lot, too. Though the protagonist was a woman, I could see a lot of Jim in her, echoes from "The Ancient Minstrel," e.g., the persistent belief in the Resurrection that both characters mention. All the writers in your list are favorites of mine, too.