The primal existential wound that festers in all Harrison’s fiction (The English Major, 2008, etc.) meets its equal, though not its master, in love.
Patsy Cline’s “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me” is the theme song for these three new novellas. Sarah, the engaging teenage heroine of the title work, has a Bible-thumping mother who does her a favor by running off and a father who’s always preoccupied by someone else. The elderly Montana cowboy with whom she has a platonic but sexually charged friendship dies on her; then she’s drugged and raped. Music and reading nurture Sarah as she plots revenge, but she’s too nice to wreak the kind of havoc often featured in Harrison’s work, and she’s rewarded with the love of a Mexican pianist/botany professor in the tentatively hopeful conclusion. The author’s insouciant alter ego drifts as usual through “Brown Dog Redux,” drinking too much and lusting after every woman he sees while remaining hopelessly infatuated with social worker Gretchen, but B.D. also gets a modestly happy ending, which he deserves. He may be incapable of planning ahead or getting a grip, but B.D. is “one of those very rare men who, for better or worse, knew exactly who he was.” Samuel, narrator of “The Games of Night,” has far more ferocious appetites; bitten by a wolf pup at age 12, he falls prey to terrifying attacks at each full moon, when he engages in violent sex and kills wild animals—humans as well, it’s hinted—with his bare hands. After 18 years “trying to run ahead of my disease” (the word werewolf is never used), Samuel finds solace with his adolescent love Emelia, though he knows he probably won’t live to 40. This dark yet radiant tale views his affliction as simply an extreme example of the human condition: “That is us in our wild play.”
Elusive, allusive and moving—perhaps the author’s best work in this form since Legends of the Fall (1979).