Northern Michigan, between love, hunting and fishing

Son of a Swedish immigrant, Joseph, in his forties, lives with his mother on the family farm in Michigan. He works as a teacher in the village school and lives with Rosealee, his colleague. Recently, he had an affair with one of his students: Catherine, a sweet 17-year-old girl …

Joseph has known Rosealee since childhood, and he has been in love with her since adolescence. But she had preferred to marry Orin, Joseph’s best friend. This one benefited from some sort of shuffle of cards when Orin died in the Korean War. Although Joseph has still not proposed marriage to Rosealee, he proves unable to resist Catherine, who regularly comes to the farm to ride a horse. The young girl is not happy with an embrace without a future. She comes back regularly, is enterprising, free, sensual and very natural. She quickly believes that their relationship goes beyond the framework of a simple affair and goes so far as to believe that Joseph should marry her. She wants it and shows some possession to him. But this remains within the confines of their intimacy, for Joseph is doing his best to keep their story from coming out.

In search of serenity

The concern for Joseph is that he does not really know what he wants. To tell the truth, what he likes best is hunting as well as fishing. And it must be said that the pages where Jim Harrison describes his character’s walks in the middle of nature are among the most successful, as he manages to convey the beauty of the landscapes and the life that animates them. If Joseph feels particularly comfortable there, it is no doubt because he can enjoy it without hesitation. In nature, he can reflect because the frequency of humans is infinitely complicated. He is still in doubt about his power over life or death over animals that have done him no harm and that he likes to observe.

Family and personal history

Joseph watches over his dying mother, a pretext for postponing the time to make a decision. If he does not put an end to his affair with Catherine, he risks watching Rosealee slip between his fingers. He feels he has no future with Catherine, but how do you complete their story? Why does he like it so much? It is possible that he took the opportunity to compensate for the frustration he experienced after his accident (as a child he almost lost a leg caught by an agricultural machine, an accident from which he still has consequences). We can also imagine that his indecision towards Rosealee is an unconscious way of getting him to pay for her once preferring Orin over him. Rosealee, however, offers him to take over her family’s farm, which could suit him while he is in his final year of teaching. It could therefore be that Joseph backed down for something that he was insisted on doing without even choosing it. Jim Harrison thus reveals many profound reasons why a mature man should act or not act (which does not prevent him from evoking feminine views). One could imagine that only the present counts, but it would be too simple.

between good and evil

Either way, Jim Harrison offers a very special situation with this fairy tale about a mature and not free man with a very young girl. Note that he does not take a position on whether it is good or bad (for readers to judge). It does not prevent him from describing each other’s reactions. Because the discretion that Joseph wanted can not last forever in a region where everything is known. The author is interested in the consequences of a situation that inspires him. Parents of students therefore strongly reject. And Catherine’s own father imagines that she has his share of responsibility in this relationship (Catherine’s family probably does not bring her everything a young girl her age needs). Joseph also has to deal with his four sisters, including his twin sister Arlice, whom he is close to but who strongly urges him to formalize his relationship with Rosealee.

A precious friendship

Finally, Harrison makes Doctor Evans a very special character. In fact, he knows each other better than anyone else. With Joseph, he goes hunting and exchanges much more than confidence. His advice is a man of experience, and he does not give it as a know-it-all, despite his special and privileged position. His vision almost from within nevertheless allows him to measure everyone and everything with an outside eye. He knows each other’s weaknesses by heart.

freedom tax

Jim Harrison therefore happily describes the daily life of Joseph, a mature and tough hunter who fights as best he can in an insoluble situation where he seeks to preserve his freedom, at least in what he considers crucial. With a great thematic richness despite its brevity (223 pages), this remarkable novel illustrates the author’s special talent.

Also see

North Michigan, Jim Harrison
Robert Laffont (Pavilions), January 1984 (French translation)

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