Two novellas and an impressionistic memoir find Harrison in a relaxed mood.
Though the author had his breakthrough success in the novella form (Legends of the Fall, 1979), in recent years his shorter fiction has been relatively lightweight, while he saved the heavy artistic lifting for dark novels like True North (2004). This new collection is no exception, though it has touching moments. Brown Dog (B.D.), the feckless Michigan part-Indian who has expressed his creator’s insouciant side in several previous outings, returns and actually does some growing up in the title story. B.D. is still pining after his lesbian social worker and happy to indulge the abundant desires of the sexy dentist treating his rotten teeth for free. But two stepchildren acquired from a marriage of convenience (their mom’s in jail) have introduced him to the joys of cooking—familiar to all Harrison’s readers—and to the necessity of taking responsibility for his actions. A threat to remove seven-year-old Berry, a victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, to a special school hundreds of miles away prompts B.D. to once again light out for the territory, but this time he’s doing it for someone else. He’s gained stature to go with his considerable charm. “Republican Wives” a trifle narrated by three overprivileged friends involved with the same egotistical man, at least showcases the ability to get inside women’s heads that’s always distinguished Harrison from his muy macho peers. “Tracking” reminds us how much of a misfit the author has always felt himself to be: he’s too rooted in the rural pleasures of his native Michigan to be entirely comfortable in the East Coast literary world; yet “life in the north seems a little too artless, bookless . . . [he has] come to need both.” This casual short piece is in many ways a more emotionally truthful self-portrait than the full-length Off to the Side (2002).
Harrison’s admirers will find minor pleasures here, while waiting for the next novel.