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OFF TO THE SIDE by Jim Harrison


A Memoir

by Jim Harrison

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 2002
ISBN: 0-87113-860-3
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

An oddly insouciant and rambling memoir from the poet, novelist, screenwriter, and essayist (The Raw and the Cooked, 2001, etc.).

Much is conventional here. Harrison rounds up the usual suspects (venal politicians; despoilers of the environment; religious fundamentalists; dolts of academe and Hollywood; bigots of assorted stripes). Structurally, he begins at the beginning (parents, childhood, adolescence) and ends near the present (there are allusions to 9/11 and to President Bush, whom Harrison disdains). If these segments are the white bread of his sandwich, the fixins’ in between are about his “seven obsessions,” comprising alcohol; strip clubs; hunting, fishing, and dogs; private religion; France; travel; and American Indians. The sections on these permit him to move freely in time, dropping myriad names and bons mots—blue laws, for example, were “enacted by dead-peckered suits.” Harrison hooks nothing rare or sizeable in his Hollywood segments but fillets the familiar (studios that need but hate writers, producers who fear talented directors) and offers dull lists of famous friends—Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Sean Connery. He sometimes attempts and achieves self-deprecation, confessing, for example, that his Warlock is weak and that he wrote some “haughty” reviews for the New York Times Book Review. Throughout, he revisits some of his worst moments, telling us a little more each time—losing vision in an eye in boyhood, losing his father and a sister in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. He also rehashes his own heavy drinking and drug use, his depressions, his visits to prostitutes. (He declares that politicians would be better people if they spent more time in whorehouses.) Much of this is fun, some just tiresome macho populist swagger, and some careless. Harrison repeats allusions to Dostoyevsky and Whitman, repeats examples and anecdotes, and needs to check his Funk & Wagnall’s for sojourn and hopefully.

His blade uncharacteristically dull, Harrison more often scrapes than slashes.