24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on July 9, 2002
There is no writer in the world that can write like Harrison. Look, I have read every book by Faulkner, Hemingway, Larry Brown, Rick Bass, and Cormac McCarthy; some three times.And not one story has the poetry, humanity, sex, Spirituality,and reality ,mixed with humor and philosophy of Jim Harrison at his best. I know this is saying a great deal. But the thing is, I've got to tell it like it is. Of course many will disagree. Read this story, "The Road Home", then read "Dalva", then read "The Road Home" again. The read "Light in August" and "Joe, "Winter", and "The Crossing". And then read "A Woman Lit By Fireflies". Then you write a review.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2000
I was completely surprised by the quality of this novel. I expected something along the lines of the only other work I have read by Jim Harrison,'Legend of the Falls'. While 'The Road Home' has some cross references to that earlier, slighter work, it is a substantially greater novel. The characters are so well defined they feel like relatives, people you have known for a lifetime. Harrison manages to evoke so much compassion for his characters that they are truly three dimensional, sometimes threatening to jump right off the page. Harrison's description of the American West is convincing and detailed (and fascinating to a reader like myself from another country). I recommend this work without reservation...as a reader of Harrison you can rest assured you are in the hands of an author who knows his craft, know his characters and story and knows how not to disappoint his readers.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 1998
After waiting for so many years for the next Harrison and worrying that he was through, now comes this gem. The Road Home is so dense and rich, with such fine descriptive language from this poet, I found myself rereading passage after passage. Harrison so beautifully and intimately describes the natural world that it is palpable. And, ah, the human heart, with both its humming body heat and its capacity for selflessness! Harrison knows it and can tell it like no other, with the possible exception of Andre Dubus. One must believe Harrison has lived it. Paul's kiss bestowed on his dying father, and Nelse's appearance from the side of the road to kiss his mother good-bye one more time, are simple and understated acts that go straight to the heart and the tear ducts. Dalva's expanding and redundant list of favorite things in her dwindling life leaves one wishing for such insight and grace in one's own life at the end.
Nature writing, a wealth of historical, ethnic, and cultural observations, and the aethetic of the graphic arts enrich this novel. But what keeps the pages turning are the insights into the human condition and the mature recognition of the subjective. The technique of using five narrators to parcel out the same family history keeps the reader hurrying along to find the next narrator's take on a given event, and it made this reader crave renditions from other characters. Oh, to spend some time in Lundquist's mind! One who is prone to assuming that the world and its living components can be understood and summarized through observation and the application of taxonomies, as Nelse and Paul are wont to do, will perhaps feel less assured about that after seeing, for instance, old man Northridge from his angle and several others. The "monster" who felt a failure as the artist manque, who never got over the loss of his son, and who loved his granddaughter Dalva with such intensity and commitment, cannot be so easily categorized.
Jim Harrison has given us another beauty of a novel that left this reader saying, "Thank you, thank you" at the end.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2002
After discussing this book with several other literature-lovers, I've found that you either really love this book or you're so-so on it. Women love it more than men, which surprised me, but then, I'm a woman and really loved it and don't see how you can't. But I also love nature, which is BIG in Harrison, and psychological depth, and romance, and family ties, and it's all there.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2009
Well, I am still savoring this one. The Road Home is a novel deeply rooted in the bones of the Midwest; each sentence appears to have been painstakenly exhumed from a Native American Nebraska archeological dig; the characters so richly drawn they do not go down with the sunset. Their ghosts are still holding court as the reader moves silently into sacred territory. There is no doubt, this is a religious experience.
While every novel must have its plot, its point of contention, struggle and release; Harrison's novels seem to take the separate path; where the struggle much like life is continual, the ebb and flow of humanity is recorded with minute and beautiful precision. This piece is divided into five different parts, each character afforded their full expanse of thought and experience; however, I did feel that there was some intertwining of characters, which, isn't necessarily a bad thing. For any writer who can cross over from gender and age to another and back again, while still holding the reader's gauze taut and eager, knows the greatest of skills.
In breeding among families used to happen much more often; and the honesty of this predicament, the sheer gale force of its truth; that cannot be undone; is a testament to Harrisons refusal to make up the past. He knows what he is writing about and he stares it down squarely.
Deathside: John Wesley Northridge II reminds the reader that no one does death better than Harrison; Pg. 154: "Rachel chants for me in Lakota as my mother had done for my father. I am charmed at this continuity though I have difficulty staying awake and my dreams are full of birds." and Dalva, looking death's reaper in the face, and almost laughing with time as her weapon, listing her great joys with girlish delight, this woman has lived!
A main character impossible to ignore; the land, a stealthy compatriot; all dogs (Ralph and the Airedales), horses (Rose) and birds (Dalva's pet crow especially), good soldiers. There is the finesse of geographical longitude and latitude; centering the reader.
Another deft brushstroke that nary a fine writer can handle; pining the souls of animals, land, and weather; all are intertwined; humanity is almost an aside. Dogs become spirit beings that hold magic in their eyes, the crow Dalva nurses, angelic. Who else can write of a horse, Rose, almost as a person with human tendencies, but that still retains the shadow outline of her nature? The Airedales hold the meaning of life and dispense of their lawyering in the den. Ted, jumping and rearing after chasing the bull, an impossible image to forget. Very few writers take the time to bestow characters in nature as Harrison does; and the reader is thankful for his time taking.
In the beginning, I found myself traipsing around the time tags and gazing up at the sky wondering whether I could fully place myself so far in the past; true enough the early Indian references and Northridge characters were a telling tribute to Mari Sandoz (a healthy nod to her greatness); I just felt that the ghosts were more present than past. After lunch and napping, I felt much more at ease with the easy ramble of Nelse who feels more like a backdrop to the land, a field that is asking its master for more water and to dig deeper and find the source of the black dirt: Nelse rich soul is in search of his own story. At times he resembles Harrison's hangdog grin of Nordstrom, and sensitive side of Brown Dog. Zig zagging: back Home, John Wesley II's narrative did stop my heart and I had to dab at the wetness in my eyes; Naomi felt as if I'd wandered into a backyard garage sale with an eager home seller to describe each item in nauseating detail, until the reader wakes up from sun vapor stupor and finally realizes everything Naomi says is true; Dalva (goddess that she is) is where I started reading as a turtle going through a dense field, and I have even gone back and started over so as to truly let the earth fairy god mother power of her character sink in.
This book is dense to be sure; but there is no waste of words here.
Trying to soak up the rays of enlightenment from the pages is a hazard. I recommend this book is best read outside, beside some pine trees, or near a large patch of water; anywhere, but inside. The elements are beckoning to join in the fun. There are times when Harrison reaches the peaks of great writing at such a speed that the reader has to stop and catch their breath; how does he do it?; and there is simply the free fall feel of standing on top of a mountain peek, listening to the caw of a Peregrine, and the feel of the wind thru the Pines.
I do not think I am over emphasizing this writer's greatness when I daresay that there will come a time when his importance will overshadow Hemingway; if that time isn't already here; it feels as if Hemingway has painted the overlay, yet Harrison comes along with a landscape that usurps the old master. Even as it pains me; the gold laced within these narratives simply cannot be ignored. Maybe I am biased; the truth, appears that when American Literature, Southwest and Midwestern are concerned; fortune telling in today's era; Cormac McCarthy and Jim Harrison are in a tight race; where are the others? I just don't see anyone else on the track.
Sadly, I am coming to the end of Dalva's narrative, and I know that once the light of her voice goes out, I shall turn back to the front and begin again; The Road Home, one of life's simple and great joys; meant to be savored, impossible to ignore.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 1999
The basic narrative trajectory of the novel centers on Nelse, the patriarch's great grandson who was expelled from the family (given up for adoption at birth), and his slow journey back into the fold. The reader is soon caught up in the story, because the writing is graceful-simultaneously spare, penetrating, and rich-and because, at least initially, the central characters are three dimensional and unusually engaging. Harrison's use of the first-person point of view is important: there is very little dialogue, and at its best the book is more a celebration of human thought than human action. What keeps the pages turning are the periodic flashes of wisdom and grace that add depth to the characters while at the same time illuminating some hidden corner of creation. The first part of the novel is peppered with originally observed moments, and there are occasional luminous glimpses into the universal joy and sadness of human existence. All in all, it makes for a rewarding read. There is much to be admired in this novel. Harrison's portrayal of man as inextricably part of nature is vigorous, nuanced, and deeply felt; his life-affirming exploration of human consciousness is ambitious and often plausible, as exemplified by the successfully self-narrated deaths of two sanguine first-person storytellers. However, about half way through the novel, Nelse passes the narrative baton over to his grandmother, Naomi, and the story slumps. The character of Naomi is chatty: flat and undeveloped, only a sketch, really. Without anything firm about Naomi to sink his teeth into, Harrison even resorts to rank cliché, as when Naomi describes her daughter Dalva as personifying the lyrics of the country song, "Don't Fence Me In." In a similar vein, Naomi concludes a sudden religious self-confession with, "I believe in Jesus as the true and only Son of God and the redemptive power of the Resurrection. There it is." And there it was: the first and last reference to Naomi's piety, other than some vague musings about the wine seeming "sacramental." Why? In the earlier segments Harrison has amply demonstrated that he is capable of better. Perhaps Naomi suffers unfairly in contrast to the two vivid narrators who precede her, but no matter: the fictional spell is broken. Increasingly, under the strain of this new, weak narrator, the book's flaws begin to surface. Northridge didn't write about his wife Neena because the marriage was a "fundamental sacrament that might lose its worth if babbled about." Although one must take the narrator at his word on this, it does seem odd that a wife of thirty years, the matriarch of the clan under scrutiny, should be so easily dismissed. One expects that there is a reason for her absence, that she will appear later on in some significant capacity, but her descendants hardly mention her and Neena remains for the most part ignored, voiceless, consigned unjustly to a perpetual gray zone. The book's most important flaw-almost fatal-also shows up in the Naomi section: after it becomes clear that Nelse will find his way back into the fold, the central narrative conflict is resolved and the story simply runs out of steam. The next narrator-Paul, Northridge's estranged son-is well-enough drawn, and prose continues to be clear and fine, enlivened with the occasional ringing passage. But the novel is badly wounded, and Harrison has to resort to the fictional equivalent of triage: artificial plot twists such as the discovery of incest in the family tree and the untimely arrival of terminal disease. In the best case these events would seem inevitable, part of a tragic progression, but the truth is (to this reader anyway) that they feel glued on or cut-and-pasted as an afterthought to keep the tension alive. Harrison's desire to resuscitate his novel is understandable-the first half of the book, after all, is breathtaking. And in the final section, told through the eyes of Northridge's granddaughter Dalva (who is able to rise above Naomi's dull characterizations to become fully realized in her own right), the story again gathers a head of steam and the novel ends on a high note. Harrison limps through; the rescue operation succeeds (after a fashion); the reader rejoices. Great novels have big flaws. Look at Moby-Dick; look at War and Peace. Still, those novels present a continuous fictional whole, burdened with extra fat, perhaps, but whole. Though it is probably unfair to hold Harrison to such rarified standards, stock plot band-aids and a dead spot that lasts for much of the second half of a novel are a bit more serious. This reader found himself wondering if The Road Home might have been stronger had it taken the shape of two or three novellas, a form in which Harrison has previously distinguished himself. Perhaps that way Harrison could have avoided the temptation to use undeveloped characters as props for an ailing narrative, and the earlier narrators of the Northridge family saga would have been able to stand tall, unsullied by the dreary march of subsequent developments.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 1999
a tasteful revisit to characters from dalva. it was good to see the personality of nelse fleshed out, from the skeleton supplied in the former work. for people who return to re-read books as they would revisit old friends, the road home is a welcome closure to dalva, and the northridge clan. harrison continues the saga honestly, without the feel of a 'let's make some money sequel'. i would like to see him revisit tristan ludlow, during the years skipped over in 'legends of the fall'.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2006
I've been reading a lot of Harrison lately ( in fact ,nearly all his prose) and I must say that this is the best of the bunch. There are times when I was quite simply awed by the emotion he can evoke. While the beginning of the book is better than the ending( I cant say I was too crazy about some of the later characters) this is Harrison at the the height of his powers, which can be substantial ! At his finest Harrison rivals any American writer.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 1998
One must get into this book and have the time and sacred space in which to dwell in it. It is a book of everything the author registered and one way or another everything appears. This is to our delight, and, one might add, we expect and look for further books and poems from Jim Harrison. That said, this book is fullsome beyond that of the book to which it is a prequel, Dalva. A presentation of life in the plains area, it is necessarily filled with birdlore and nature. Nevertheless, only this author could have written it. Only he could have known that one does not speak to dogs with irony or that looking back on one's youthful diaries of Europe yields little of interest because the subject lacked the skill of a Henry James. Everywhere one reads there are lines, and ideas, of breathtaking suddenness.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 1999
Jim Harrison is without doubt my favorite contemporary writer (followed very closely by Tom McGuane). Words and paper were invented for Jim Harrison's genius to be shared by the rest of us. THE ROAD HOME is so significant and well written I found myself unable to read more than four or five pages before I had to put the book aside just to let the words sink in. Harrison's gift of word usage and image creation puts most other contemporary writers far behind. Read THE ROAD HOME!