JULIP by Jim Harrison


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 A hit and two misses by novelist, poet, and journalist Harrison (Dalva, 1988; Legends of the Fall, 1979). These three novellas contrast the chaos of so-called civilization, signified by the havoc wreaked by the wantonness of the human libido, against the brutal yet orderly simplicity of nature. In the title piece, Julip tries to get her brother Bobby declared mentally incompetent and freed from prison, where he has been sent after shooting her three lovers. Although Julip willingly had sex with each of the victims, Bobby, who harbors sexual feelings for his sister, claims that he was only avenging his sister's defilement. Julip, a dog trainer, has long used her physical attractiveness to get what she wants, yet she is only truly at peace when she is among the animals she loves at her farm in rural Wisconsin. Overall, ``Julip'' is a nonstop joy ride of a read as the vibrant protagonist travels from Wisconsin to Florida using all of her considerable charm to spring her loved one from jail. More ponderous is ``The Seven-Ounce Man,'' about an errant Indian named Brown Dog, a character first introduced in Harrison's The Woman Lit By fireflies. Brown Dog is torn between his political principles and his libidinal and alcoholic impulses. Harrison is less effective when he forgoes plot and dialogue and lets his characters introspectively pontificate on the vagaries of human nature, as Brown Dog does here. The third novella, ``The Beige Dolorosa,'' is about a professor who traumatically loses his job over accusations of sexual harassment. Moving unwillingly to Arizona, the protagonist eventually finds the kind of spiritual fulfillment that has eluded him all of his life, yet not before one last, potentially disastrous flush of sexual desire. More philosophical than plot-driven, this last novella is the most blandly written; the more intellectual potential Harrison's characters possess, the less interesting they are. Hedonists, beware, Harrison seems to be saying; unchecked sexual desire leads to incest, infidelity, and prostitution. Mother Nature, on the other hand, offers a spiritual connection to an animal instinct untainted by modern neuroses. Like most people, Harrison's characters are caught right in the middle.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1994
ISBN: 0-395-48885-0
Page count: 275pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1994


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