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The Road Home Hardcover – October, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

With his 1988 novel, Dalva, Jim Harrison commenced an epic of the American Midwest--or more specifically, the Nebraska sandhills. In The Road Home his eponymous heroine returns in search of the son she abandoned 30 years before, only to find herself more deeply enmeshed than ever in the coils of the family romance. (Quite literally, by the way: the father of Dalva's son was her half-brother.) Now, a decade later, Harrison continues her story in The Road Home. Ranging over an entire century, this second installment encompasses both Dalva's ancestry and her valedictory impulses in the face of death, circa 1987.

As he did in the earlier book, the author passes the narrative baton from one character to another. There are five highly individual voices at work, including not only Dalva's own but that of her grandfather, mother, and son. This makes for a dense, Rashomon-like structure, in which events are revisited by one generation after another and truth is a relative thing--in every sense of the word. Harrison leavens this spiraling saga with splendid passages about everything from the Lakota Sioux to bird hunting, from the complexities of art to the simplicities of the wandering life: "There's a sweet, vaguely scary feeling in disappearance," notes Dalva's son, Nelse. And as always, the author can convey both the surprising beauty of a landscape and an almost suffocating sense of its abundance. "It is neither more nor less endurable in May," says Dalva of the lilac-encircled family cemetery, "when it is enshrouded by the heavy-scented purple and white flowers, a smell that on warm evenings is so dense as to be almost visible.... The sound of the crickets arrived one by one until they were a chorus, and if you walked down the gravel road toward the Niobrara the frogs from the lower, marshy areas were so loud as to be barely endurable." --Bob Brandeis

From Publishers Weekly

A decade after the stunning Dalva, Harrison returns to the Northridge family of Nebraska in a saga that spans three generations of stoic loss, intermittent happiness and a healing proximity to the natural world. Tough old patriarch John Northridge narrates the first and strongest section, an apologia for the life he has led, first as a youth between two cultures (he is the son of a white father and a Lakota Sioux mother), then as a sensitive art student and, for most of his life, as a formidable rancher and cattle farmer, husband, father and grandfather. Northridge's life has paralleled the development of the Great Plains, and his intimate connection with the land humanizes his often cruel behavior to his wife, who left him, and his surviving son, Paul (his favorite son, Dalva's father, was killed in the Korean war). Other narrators are nomadic Nelse, the son Dalva gave up for adoption when she was 15, who finds her when he is 30; Naomi, Dalva's mother; Paul; and the still headstrong Dalva herself. As one expects of Harrison, the characters all share an instinctive love for the their native landscape and for the horses, dogs and birds that evoke their most treasured memories. With an unforced lucidity, the novel explores the tension between the Native American and white cultures, the effects of art and poetry on one's conception of existence and the very purpose of existence viewed from "the grace of the divinely ordinary" life. Two miscalculations flaw the novel. One is the sameness of the narrative voice, with all the characters, male and female, speaking in the same indistinguishable Midwestern cadences. The other is that, in attempting to reflect the quality of Nebraskan life, Harrison lets his characters describe their mundane experiences in meticulous but often pedestrian detail. While he thus stitches a fabric of impressive strength and depth, the narrative sometimes becomes tedious. Yet readers who let themselves be captured by the novel's breadth?from the late 1800s to 1987?and the memorable depictions of stalwart people striving to understand their destinies, will be rewarded by a deep and nourishing story.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 446 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st edition (October 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871137240
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871137241
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #771,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Keith Moore on July 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By vortexreader on November 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
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 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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David Gustafson ( on November 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jill M. Eichner on September 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Yasmin H. McEwen on August 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
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!
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