Rarely does one encounter a memoir so filled with the details of a life lived. Whether recalling bits of his past as a depressed child, manual laborer, Hollywood screenwriter, aspiring poet, novelist, or alcoholic husband, Jim Harrison pauses to analyze these moments--the cause and effect--and the choices that have made him who he is. Loosely divided into chapters, Off to the Side
is somewhat rambling, and Harrison's opinions and conclusions occasionally remain obscure ("nearly everything you hear about Mexicans in the great north is utterly untrue")--but, to the benefit of readers, Harrison is never at a loss for ideas.
The solace Harrison finds in the natural world is most compelling, and it could be said he, too, shares Frost's "lover's quarrel with the world." After losing an eye at an early age and sinking into melancholy, Harrison's father advised that "curiosity will get you through hard times when nothing else will. Your curiosity had to be strong enough to lift you out of your self-sunken mudbath, the violent mixture of hormones, injuries, melancholy, and dreams of a future you not only couldn't touch but could scarcely see." These words were not lost on Harrison. With "no expertise outside of [his] own imagination" Harrison plays to his strengths in Off to the Side by setting down the events, experiences, thoughts, and feelings that have shaped his quite literate, truly American life. --Michael Ferch
From Publishers Weekly
"I'm not sure I'm particularly well equipped to tell the truth," writes Harrison. But with such a colorful life, there's not much need to tell lies. Bus boy, gardener, gourmand, novelist, screenwriter, drunkard-Harrison has done it all. Now add successful memoirist to that list. After a rugged outdoor childhood in Michigan, where an accident left him blind in one eye, Harrison moved to New York with vague ambitions to be a poet. Denise Levertov soon recognized his talent and launched Harrison on a literary career that eventually included teaching at SUNY Stony Brook, writing for GQ and Esquire, authoring several popular novels (The Road Home; Legends of the Fall) and writing Hollywood screenplays. Throughout, Harrison befriended an impressive gang of fellow free spirits: Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Buffett, Tom McGuane, among others. He swingingly recounts trout fishing with Richard Brautigan, bingeing with Orson Welles, arguing gay poetry with W.H. Auden and drinking with just about everybody. Alcoholism, Harrison writes, was his constant enemy, the writer's "black lung disease," as his friend McGuane once said. But he had other vices, too: strippers, cocaine, hunting, long walks in the woods by himself-all of which fed into Harrison's characteristic mix of freewheeling boho sensibilities and earthy western melancholy. A man as willing to shoot a grouse as trip on psychedelics-he claims to annually experience God-like visions and swears that he was once transformed into a wolf-Harrison is never less than intriguing. This fine memoir is a worthy capstone to a fascinating career.
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