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Dalva (1991)

Dalva (1991)

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4.2 of 5 Votes: 4
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0671740679 (ISBN13: 9780671740672)
washington square press

About book Dalva (1991)

"Dear Son! I am being honest but not honest enough. Once up in Minnesota I saw a three-legged bobcat, a not quite whole bobcat with one leg lost to a trap. There is the saw about cutting the horse's legs off to get him in a box. The year it happened to me the moon was never quite full. Is the story always how we tried to continue our lives as if we had once lived in Eden? Eden is the childhood still in the garden, or at least the part of it we try to keep there. Maybe childhood is a myth of survival for us. I was a child until fifteen, but most others are far more truncated."At forty-five years of age Dalva Northridge has lived a life of privilege and riches yet is constantly reminded of the shame she has for her physical devices. With all of the typical attention that comes from being a distinct cultural beauty, Dalva has an undeniable need to be properly seduced. A woman not deprived of lovers, she would tell you that she has definitely had her share, Dalva makes her way north on horseback to rediscover something monumental to solve her existential crisis and ultimately her survivability. Dalva sets out on a quest from her home in California to that of her childhood home in Nebraska to find the son she has never known, and make amends with a past gone, but not forgotten. This is a story of a grown woman reminiscing about her youth, her family, and rediscovering a heritage she once denied ever making a lasting imprint on who she was, but one that will show her who she could be.Throughout her life Dalva has lived in many cities, has had countless jobs, and has laid many bedfellows in her time, and unabashedly so. Dalva has worked in Michigan for the Department of the Interior, in New York for a fashion magazine, in Minneapolis as an addiction's counselor, for a documentary film maker in Florida, a liason for the Organization of American States in Washington, a social worker in Michigan, and finally a youth worker in Santa Monica. In and between all of her career changes, her life is filled with affairs, drugs, alcohol, and food. Parting is never a sorrow for Dalva because she knows there is another Romeo just around the bend. A very dominant yet tormented character, she seems to be in control in every situation, making her an honest, mature, and a dependable protagonist that you want to cheer on. "Once when Emilia and I were plucking quail for dinner I asked her if she was Paul's lover. 'Sometimes,' She said. I continued the line of questioning until she became embarrassed and changed the subject by saying the doctor was coming in the morning. I disliked the doctor who was puffy white and wore too much cologne. 'Who was the lucky boy?' he asked during the first examination when I lay with my legs up I told him I didn't know because I had been drunk and there were several. A wave of disgust passed across his face and further examinations were without conversation."While Dalva is the titular character and therefore the most prominent, the men also become a focal point at various points throughout the novel. Dalva's father John Wesley Northridge III fought for America in WW2 and was killed when Dalva was nine-years-old during the Korean War when the plane he was flying was shot down. Her memory of him is very fuzzy, limited simply to events and not a continuation of days. Dalva's uncle Paul Northridge is an eccentric free-spirit who travels the world and becomes a steady presence and spiritual influence in Dalva's life after the death of his father and her grandfather. Paul is a wayward traveler who finally settles down when the time calls. Duane Stonehouse is part-Sioux, but lives a life of a white cowboy. Strong and silent, Duane doesn't react to Dalva the typical way that other men Dalva comes across do. This makes Duane an intriguing character that impresses upon Dalva an increased fascination that must be further investigated. For the reader he is also a man that has more significance in his absence then he does in his presence in the novel. Kind of a ghostly figure, with limited knowledge of him you wonder why Dalva wants him so bad. For Dalva, Duane's spirit guides her, serving as a northern star that guides her to the answer to her questions. Michael is a history professor at Stanford University that is working on making tenure and needs Dalva to address a family history that she would rather forget. They may be able to help each other reach their respective end games? What makes Michael interesting is that he is a man of indulgences. Whether it be a fine wine, delicacies, or a young impressionable local girl, Michael is easily distracted along his travels and during the production of his important work. What makes him humorous is the whole idea of putting a city boy in the country, just use your imagination. Dalva's great-grandfather John Wesley Northridge was a religious outsider, but became a pioneer for the Sioux nation in Nebraska. He kept journals of the tribes plight, their excavation from their grounds, and their ultimate destruction. He served as the preserver of an invaluable piece of American history and a restorer in the importance of Native Americans across the land. "In the cab on the way to the lawyer's I reconsidered my involvement with the miserable son of a bitch. He simply in some classic sense didn't know any better. The idea that a man or a woman could be incisively brilliant in one area, and a grotesque fuck-up in another was scarcely limited to the academic profession. Most of the bright and energetic people I had known in my life had closeted away secrets that were far too vivid to be referred to as skeletons."Naturally, like any classic novel this book was truly difficult to get a handle on. Jumping from places in time and various perspectives, the non-linear nature will place an emphasis on supreme concentration. What I appreciated about Dalva was the author's ability to include some humour in a rather weighted novel filled with personal regret. For instance, Dalva's sister Ruth is a Protestant Methodist who at forty-years-of-age is desperately trying to get a Catholic priest to impregnate her in order to keep the land in her family. To say she is burdened would be an understatement, when you consider her privileged lifestyle, it makes it that much more entertaining. I also enjoyed the way the author was able to describe the vastness of the environment, the dangers that lurk in the dark, and the uncertainty that waits in the distance.A story that travels through prairies, spans generations, and crosses narratives; Dalva by Jim Harrison is the prototypical epic that demands a reading once in a lifetime.

Embedded in this brilliant novel is this single poignant sentence:Back on the front porch, I saw her in the far corner of the yard, pushing an empty tire swing as if it held an imaginary child.Jim Harrison can raise a lump in your throat. By this point in the book we are already in love with Dalva. She is 45, beyond intelligent, fetching, equal parts sentimental and pragmatic. She is as self-sufficient as it is possible to be. She can, as they say, ride a horse. When she was a young girl, she fell hard for Duane Stone Horse - quite the young man but not necessarily the kind you wanted in your living room. The resultant child was taken from her, an adoption arranged. In this book, Dalva is searching for her son and searching for her history as well. It is America's history, not all parades and ruffles and flourishes. But it's so much more.----- ----- ----- ----- -----I woke yesterday, not hungover, but I hadn't slept well. I opened Dalva. Uncharacteristically, I had left my bookmark in the middle of a section, apparently worn out the night before right there. What followed was three pages that I think show why Harrison has such a purchase on my reading soul.Ruth arrived at the last minute before dinner, running late because she had been reading a book called Arctic Dreams and had been carried away...That stopped me. First, because Arctic Dreams (by Barry Lopez) is one of my favorite books. That will always get my attention. But I also loved the casual way Harrison brought it up. Never even mentioned the author's name. Just a little tip of the cap. (He makes a more cryptic reference to Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard later, naming neither the author nor title.) But I also loved how it served its literary purpose. So many things could have made Ruth late: a flat tire, a phone call, an unexpected visitor. This reference wasn't for everyone. But for me, yes, I understood exactly why Ruth could be carried away and thus late.Ruth, Dalva's sister, was late for an impromptu dinner hosted by Uncle Paul. (Their father, Paul's brother, was killed in the Korean War). Paul has conspired to invite Fred, a neighbor, as a possible match for either Dalva or Ruth. This is Dalva's take on Fred:It turned out she (Ruth) rather liked Paul's neighbor, Fred, the divorced rancher. I felt noncommittal about him after a half-hour's chat; he wore slightly too much cologne, his informal ranch clothes were too precisely tailored and didn't seem quite comfortable, the sort of clothes a CEO would wear at a chuck-wagon outing at a Phoenix convention. He was terribly bright and knowledgeable, but lacked the "indentations," the unique character traits I look for in men. I imagined he ate donuts with a fork and folded his underpants. This trace of bitchiness in me reminded me of what my Santa Monica gynecologist friend had told me--that I was too "autolelic," i.e., I only did things for and of themselves and lacked an overall "game plan." At least with Fred there were no edges against which one could bruise--he had taken care of himself so well he'd likely grow old and die in a single minute when the time was appropriate.Irritated by Fred, Uncle Paul offers his own thoughts:"You can't make the desert represent a freedom you should have organized for yourself in your bedroom or living room. That's what is so otiose about nearly all nature writing. People naturally shed their petty and inordinate grievances in the natural world, then resume them when the sheer novelty dissipates. We always destroy wilderness when we make it represent something else, because that something else can always fall out of fashion. Freedom to the all-terrain-vehicle addict, the mining and oil and timber companies, has always meant the absolute license to do as they wish, while "heritage" is a word brought up by politicians to recall a virtue they can't quite remember. The only traceable heritage related to our use of the land is to exhaust it....Of course, on a metaphoric level the desert is an unfathomably intricate prison, and you may understandably wish to play with this fact, comparing it to your own life. By not letting places be themselves we show our contempt for them. We bury them in sentiment, then suffocate them to death in one way or another. I can ruin both the desert and the Museum of Modern Art in New York by carrying to them an insufferable load of distinctions that disallows actually seeing the flora and fauna or the paintings. Children are usually better at finding mushrooms and arrowheads because they are either ignorant or unwilling to carry the load."Embarrassed by his speech, Paul asks Ruth to "play something morose and sentimental" on the piano. Dalva watches:She began with a harpsichord imitation, lapsed into a polka, then slid into the Debussy she knew Paul favored. In turn he laughed, closed his eyes, then smiled. When I looked at him I couldn't help wondering what sort of man my father would have become.----- ----- ----- ----- -----I stopped and looked outside. The first frost was painting the grass. It would kill the basil but not the flowers. Not yet.I thought of love. I thought of history. I thought of my father. I thought of the magic of just three pages.This is supposed to be the Year of Reading Proust. I found Jim Harrison two months ago. It's late in the year, but I've compulsively made this my Year of Reading Harrison. Next year too.

Do You like book Dalva (1991)?

I read the two books of this series out of order. First I read The Road Home, which is actually the sequel to this book, Dalva. Perhaps it is just because I got tired of Harrison's dense style, but I liked this book less than the other. The author's main technique is the use of remarkably fleshed-out interior monologues that move back and forth between a character's memories and current activities. Sometimes the monologues can get ponderous, as in Dalva's deleriums near the end of the book; I found myself skipping some. Positives: The story of the original Northridge is absolutely fascinating. I wish there was more of that, espeially about the Ghost Dance and Wounded Knee. I love the characters of the old horseman Lundquist and his daughter Frieda, and I was strongly drawn to the warm character of Naomi. Another great strength of this book is the way the author portrays animals--they become interesting characters without being anthropomorphized.Negatives: Could not stand the character of Michael. I don't see any purpose to him being in the novel, other than perhaps as a vehicle to tell the story of the first Northridge. Michael is weak and contemptible, and there is absolutely no reason for Dalva to like him or trust him with her family's diaries the way she does.I also did not warm up to the character of Paul, he seemed prissy and full of himself. Which brings me to the main character. I partially agree with the reviewer who said Dalva is more of a man's idea of an ideal strong woman than a woman's idea, but then I also read several reviews from women who said they wished they could be more like her. So I guess she also could be viewed as a woman's ideal of a strong woman. In any case, I found her believable and likeable, although as I said above, could not understand why she had taken up with Michael. I was glad when she got together with the cowboy Sam Creekmouth by the end of the book. You go, Dalva!

Read this book for Book Club and it was my first Jim Harrison. It reads and feels like a classic already.There's some real crackles of brilliant writing, strong character description, imaginative family history intermixed with historical US v native Indian narrative. The plot structure is such that there's three parts to the novel and the first two are from the perspective of the title character with the middle from her main male antagonist (which itself is interspersed with journal entries from an old family patriarch). Some exchanges are witty, smart, funny, illustrative wordplay, but others are without stakes and the pace gets muddled in overwrought imagery and introspection that drags for times.I'm glad to have read it and lived in that world (really 2-3 worlds) for awhile, but it wasn't compelling enough for me to want to reread or recommend it.
—Peter Knox

Jim Harrison has joined the ranks of Wallace Stegner and Larry McMurtry as among my very favorite of the authors that write about the western US and it's history. It is another of those books that was such a profound experience reading, that I want to have time to just sit with it before I begin examining it and taking apart the three generational story it tells. There are a lot of layers packed in here. The one aspect I will comment on is the voice and character of Dalva. I always find it brave when men choose to write through a female narrator. There are a surprising number who do it quite well, Wally Lamb comes to mind. My first impression of Dalva was that much like the male heroes of the romance novels, he has created a female counterpart, a woman most men would desire and feel quite comfortable with, in other words, a bit of a male fantasy. She is more masculine in her actions and reactions than any woman I have known. I can honestly say I have never met a woman like her, but I also realized early on that in many ways I would like to be more like her. The whole family is quirky in a way that is intriguing without silliness or false notes. She became more believable and much more three dimensional as I learned more about her. Though she has close and loving relationships with her mother and sister, she is a woman whose life has been primarily affected and shaped by the men she encounters and the environment they live in, her father who dies young, her lover Duane, her lost son, her adoring grandfather and her uncle Paul who serves as surrogate father. She is molded and haunted by them all.So for now, I will just savour this beautiful book and indulge in the sequel. I can't wait to read more of this man's work.

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