The Summer He Didn’t Die – Jim Harrison

by admin on August 13, 2009

My previous experience reading Jim Harrison was The English Major. While the story didn’t interest me all that much, I really enjoyed Harrison’s writing style. The bare prose was reminiscent of Hemingway, but with just a touch more detail that made for an enjoyable reading experience. Don’t jump to conclusions that I am comparing Harrison to Hemingway as far as literary accomplishments – I’m just talking about their similar style.

The Summer He Didn’t Die is a collection of three novellas – The Summer He Didn’t Die, Republican Wives, and Tracking. The Summer He Didn’t Die brings us to one of Harrison’s memorable characters, Brown Dog, from a previous novella, Brown Dog. Brown Dog is a rough character with a big heart as he struggles to take care of two children of his wife who is currently residing in a prison downstate in lower Michigan.

Republican Wives deals with a trio of women and the sheltered lives they have lived since their days in college at the University of Michigan. The right-wing mentality of their fathers and husbands goes against their more liberal attitudes and this novella deals with their struggles to find peace with their station in life.

Tracking reads as if it may be a bit of a memoir of Harrison. The details and feelings seem too true to not have at least their basis in his own life. The novella follows the travels, trials, and success of a writer from boyhood to adulthood and how he views his life from each of those two perspectives. I felt that the first bit of Tracking where the story was told from the viewpoint of a boy was more entertaining than the remainder of the story told from a young man and then older adult. It seemed as though Harrison was more true in the innocent telling of the tale from a boy’s perspective and I enjoyed that more than the drier and somewhat more unimaginative adult perspectives.

Overall, my favorite of the three was easily The Summer He Didn’t Die. I loved following Brown Dog as he struggled to care for, provide, and protect his “instant family” that he inherited by marrying a woman residing in prison. It’s kind of one of those “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” type stories but with a bit of a twist as Brown Dog has many ugly qualities to his life and is by no means a saint.

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