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The English Major: A Novel Hardcover – October 1, 2008

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My Struggle: Book Four
Eighteen-year-old Karl Ove moves to a tiny fishing village in the Arctic Circle to work as a school teacher. As the nights get longer, the shadow cast by his father's own sharply increasing alcohol consumption, also gets longer. Read the full description

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Harrison's funny, spirited latest, Cliff, a 60-year-old former Michigan high school teacher, bids adieu to his inherited family farm (lost in a shady real estate deal); his wife, Vivian, of 38 years (who has been cheating on him and orchestrated the deal) and dear departed dog Lola (the truest woman in my life); and sets off on a yearlong, countrywide jag. Armed with his childhood jigsaw puzzle mapping the 50 states, Cliff endearingly tosses out a puzzle piece every time he crosses state lines, reminisces and tries (with as much humor as he can muster) to make the best of his shattered existence. The miles between Minnesota and Montana play host to a melodramatically drawn-out love/hate romantic triumph with Marybelle, a married former student. She stalks Cliff well into a visit with his affluent gay son, Robert, flourishing in San Francisco. As more calamity ensues in Arizona, New Mexico and Montana, the possibility of reconciliation with Vivian looms. With a plot left deliberately thin, Harrison is consistently witty and engaging as he drives home his timeless theme: that change can be beneficial at any point in life. (Oct.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Jim Harrison has long held the title of Best American Writer You've Probably Never Heard Of. A poet first (and, by Harrison's own admission, foremost), he turned to fiction almost 40 years ago with the publication of his novel Wolf. Harrison is at his best when he focuses on his characters' essential humanity and the tragicomic events that shape their lives. His raw humor and sharp (and for the most part, good-natured) satire occasionally met with ambivalence from critics, but The English Major is the work of a seasoned, sure-footed storyteller. This novel is vintage Harrison, and for most readers, that's a very good thing indeed.
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Edition edition (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802118631
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802118639
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 51 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on September 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
With Jim Harrison, you always know that you'll be reading something that is well off the beaten track, so to speak. He writes for himself, not to please a segment of the population. With most of his work, you feel that you're getting deep within a person's soul. The English Major is a bit more "escapist" than some of his deeper and darker (in the sense of unsettling, not supernatural, although there may be a surreal feel) novels. The story is about a man recently in his 60's whose wife of almost 40 years has booted him out for another man. Cliff leaves his farm in Michigan on an Odyssey (using caps seems appropriate) across many of the western US states. He takes with him an old jigsaw puzzle, and as he leaves each state he "sacrifices" that piece of the puzzle.

Cliff's journey takes him to Wisconsin, Minnestota, and eventually into Montana. On this early part of the trip he is joined by a former student Marybelle, who will be dropped off at her husband's digging site in Montana. Marybelle is a cell-phone addict to an extent that rivals Cliff's ex-wife's appetite for junk food. Cliff wants open spaces, Marybelle wants nearby cell phone towers. Harrison's great strength lies in the depth of his characterizations. You seem to always get a good understanding and appreciation of everyone--evn the waitresses in the small cafes along the way. There are wonderful descriptions of Cliff's mixed reactions to Marybelle--the sex, the incessant cellphone chatter, whether it is better to have companionship or quiet solitary communions with nature (Cliff also enjoys fishing).

Cliff's son lives in San Francisco, and always has more advice for him than Cliff wants, the ex-wife wants to see him as well, and, of course, Marybelle and her cell phone intrudes.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bazzett on October 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I tried hard to like this book, and I succeeded, at least partly. The title was an instant grabber since I too was an English major, forty years ago. Harrison (who was once, incidentally, like me, a Reed City Boy) has told interviewers that the book's title was spawned by the oft-asked question from his practical-minded and sometimes dim northern Michigan friends and relatives: "Why wouldja major in English when ya already know English?" Point taken, I suppose. The truth is that most English majors were/are people who love books and reading. But then those same people often end up as teachers; and some of them, like me, find out they don't really like teaching, just books. Anyway, ol' Cliff, the book's 60 yr-old protagonist, taught high school English for 10 yrs, then went back to farming, another job he didn't really like all that much, but got kinda used to over a 25 yr period. When his wife of nearly 40 yrs leaves him, his dog dies and he loses his farm, all practically at the same time, he is forced to re-examine his life and try to make a new one. So he goes on the road, fancying himself a kind of codger-Kerouac, perhaps. As is true in almost all of Harrison's books, women fling themselves at him and have their way with his tired ol' body, which begins to very much feel its age after too much vigorous sex. He seems to find more pleasure in frequent naps and food than he does in these adventures in the sack though. In point of fact, his descriptions of his meals, taken in various diners, bars and seedy restaurants, or self-prepared, as he travels west across the country from Michigan to California, and back to Montana, become rather tiresome, as do his frequent digressions on life and sex and just about everything else. The plot, if there indeed is one, is pretty thin.Read more ›
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By K. L. Cotugno VINE VOICE on November 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This novel concerns the transition of a 60-year-old man from one chapter of life to another using the device of a road trip. Cliff addresses his life, but not always successfully. Harrison is a fine writer, but at times I felt he almost phoned in some of his observations. There is really not much soul searching during this aborted voyage of discovery. Many times the protagonist snapping pictures, usually of cows, and applying quotes from his past as an English teacher. It is not certain why he gave up that profession to become a farmer, and the characters are somewhat 2 dimensional except for his beloved late dog, Lola. His project, that of renaming all the states and their state birds, seems more of a device than a calling. There are some lovely passages hinting at the talent of this fine writer, but this is not one of his better efforts.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Holland on June 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book was barely passable for me. I'm an old fan of Jim Harrison, although I fell off at "Dalva" after enjoying the hell out of books like "Farmer," "Sun Dog," and "Legends of the Fall". "The English Major" starts off with promise. I liked the 50 states theme and started getting into his rhythm, but the style of the book is to constantly look backwards and also to give meandering thoughts about life. It took away the forward momentum. And I honestly just got tired of Harrison's manly-literary style. The narrator became Harrison and it all just got stale. The AD (Alcoholic Doctor) character and state puzzle pieces and names became crutch literary devices. Harrison plays with the concept of artist with a project of renaming the US states and birds, calling it art, and it seems he's making a statement about art, but it doesn't have much interest in the end.

Jim Harrison remains one of my all-time favorite writers. He still can put together some funny stuff and is fearless in writing about how men are put together. But honestly I had to trudge to get to the end of this book.
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