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Returning to Earth Limited Edition Edition

52 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802118431
ISBN-10: 0802118437
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Hardcover, January 5, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dying at 45 of Lou Gehrig's disease, Donald, who is Chippewa- Finnish, dictates his family story to his wife, Cynthia, who records this headlong tale for their two grown children (and also interjects). Donald's half-Chippewa great-grandfather, Clarence, set out from Minnesota in 1871 at age 13 for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In Donald's compellingly digressive telling, Clarence worked the farms and mines of the northern Midwest, and arrived in the Marquette, Mich., area 35 years later. As Donald weaves the tale of his settled life of marriage and fatherhood with that of his restless ancestors, he reveals his deep connection to an earlier, wilder time and to a kind of people who are "gone forever." The next three parts of the novel, each narrated by a different member of Donald's family, relate the story of Donald's death and its effects. While his daughter, Clare, seeks solace in Donald's Anishnabeg religion, Cynthia and her brother, David, use Donald's death to come to terms with the legacy of their alcoholic father. The rambling narrative veers away from the epic sweep of Harrison's Legends of the Fall, and Donald's reticence about the role religion plays in his life dilutes its impact on the story. But Harrison's characters speak with a gripping frankness and intimacy about their own shortcomings, and delve into their grief with keen sympathy. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Mortality is much on the mind of the longtime chronicler of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and in his new novel, he gives eloquent expression to death and the grieving process through the character of Donald. A man of few words, Donald suddenly finds himself compelled to spill out his family history after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease at the age of 45. His wife, Cynthia, sits at his side, recording his words for their two children. And the stories he tells about his Chippewa-Finnish father and grandfather, the "kind of people gone forever," are tales of restlessness and the hard work of mining and ranching. By contrast, his own life has been more centered, revolving around his marriage and children and his Anishnabeg religion, although he feels a powerful connection to his people through their mutual reverence for the natural world. He faces his death with the same dignity with which he has lived his life. As the narrative shifts to record how Donald's family members cope with their grieving in the year after his passing, Harrison sounds the themes he has been working out over the course of his long and prolific career, including the healing power of nature and the deep connection between the sensual and the spiritual. In the tradition of Louise Erdrich and Thomas McGuane, Harrison displays a seemingly effortless ability to present abstract issues in earthy, muscular prose. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Limited Edition edition (January 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802118437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802118431
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,155,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Chad M. Supp on January 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When I opened "Returning to Earth", I was pleasantly surprised to find I knew these characters from Harrison's previous novel "True North". I had not made the connection when reading the book description on Amazon. Upon completing a Harrison story, I immediately miss the company of his characters. When "True North" ended, I very much missed my neurotic friend, David, who thankfully returns in this novel. Finished with "Returning to Earth", I find myself very interested in Lame Deer, Montana.

When reading reviews of Harrison's last few novels, I notice the term "rambling narrative" appears frequently (I guess I just contributed to that trend). I don't know whether to perceive this as a negative or a positive comment. Harrison's narrative takes place in the consciousness of his characters. My own experience with consciousness (I admit there have been a few interruptions along the way) has never been carefully plotted or structured for efficiency. Harrison's characters have thoughts, random, scattered, and yes sometimes rambling thoughts. The narrative carries you along, like only Harrison's prose can, and many of these thoughts become your own by the end of the novel. I will never look at a bear the same way again.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on February 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Returning to Earth" has several meanings for its title. Simply put, it is the burial of the first narrator, his family returning from their journey of grieving or a combination of both meanings. The first half of the book asks how do you die a "good" death while the conclusion asks how do you live your life after the "good" life. The family members narrate their portion of their sadness, struggling not to succumb to the overwhelming grieve. The writing is lyrical and haunting in the manner of a storyteller. Mr. Harrison is the author of 8 novels, 5 novellas ("Legends of the Fall" is the best known) & 8 collections of poetry and this is his best tale yet.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on February 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Lou Gehrig's disease is such a horrible way to die. While reading this book I kept in mind watching a friend of mine (also 45 years old) find that he had the disease and watching as one muscle after another failed to function. But for more about the disease, read 'Tuesdays With Morrie.'

This instead is a story of Donald, a man slowly dying and realizing that his family history will die with hime. So he begins dictating stories that he has never shared with anyone else. While this is going on, the family around him has to learn to cope with the realization that he is dying and doing so with dignity.

After Donald's death, his family struggle through their grief at his passing. In the end, they have to go on, as we all do. But the telling of their stories is masterfully done. It's a story of trying to make sense out of life, while understanding that we honor our dead but move on to the future.

It is a tale masterfully told.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Marshall Walker on March 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Of all of Jim Harrison's works, this one will bless you spiritually in greater measure if you have read some of his earlier works first. Don't read this for entertainment. Read it for a glimpse of appreciating death and those who deal with your departure, whenever that may come. The intimate understanding of a white man who knows of the American Indian experience, the author I refer to, can only write such a story. Somehow, Jim Harrison has been there. To catch a glimpse of the author's mind, the reader must read his prior works. Only then can one appreciate this work. The bear is an animal of great medicine. Wait to read this until you are ready. "One is not ready to die until one is ready to live; and, until one is ready to live, only then are they ready to die."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In a recent radio interview, Jim Harrison laughed when asked about the demographics of his readers. For 40 years, he says, his publishers have been trying to figure that out. His characters typically inhabit less populated, unglamorous locales like the West and Midwest, and whatever wisdom they attain is often gleaned from the natural world. Donald, the central character of RETURNING TO EARTH, is in some ways the Harrison Ur-hero, facing his impending death from Lou Gehrig's disease. "I'm forty-five and it seems I'm to leave the earth early but these things happen to people."

The first of the novel's four parts is in his voice, dictated to his wife Cynthia, recounting what he knows of his family history in order to preserve it for his grown children, Herald and Clare. We find that he is the first male in four generations not to be named Clarence, and that he is probably over half-Chippewa. "For all practical purposes my dad and I weren't the least bit Indian but were just among the ordinary tens of thousands of mixed bloods in the Upper Peninsula."

Donald lost his mother to schizophrenia at a young age, but succeeded as an athlete due to his size. Working alongside his father, in the employ of a wealthy and decadent white family, he fell in love with Cynthia, the daughter, and they ran away and married as teens. Donald intersperses his family history with matter-of-fact comments on his disease and cryptic references to his personal religion, which is rooted in the more traditional Chippewa ways of his Aunt Flower, who lives in the woods and renders lard for her mince pie crusts from pigs she raises and slaughters herself.
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