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Returning To Earth (2007)

Returning to Earth (2007)

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3.99 of 5 Votes: 1
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0802118437 (ISBN13: 9780802118431)
grove press

About book Returning To Earth (2007)

A very satisfying read of an extended family in the Michigan Upper Peninsula finding their way through woods of life. Harrison is among a handful of American novelists I most appreciate for a capacity to elucidate the interplay of the individual and collective sources of meaning in existence. Likely many potential readers have encountered Harrison through the movie version of his novella “Legends of the Fall”. Common elements here include a big focus on evoking a sense of a particular place and our relationship to nature, a family saga that has an almost Biblical concern with addressing “the sins of the fathers”, and a realistic portrayal of how we strive to balance love, ambition, and integrity with mortality and human limitations. The narrative unfolds in four sections from the perspective of different characters, each compelling real. Donald leads with a journal of his life for his kids as he prepares to die from ALS in his 40s. He is half Chippewa (Anishinabe) and for strength harks back to his time living with an aunt who infused him with tribal traditions. His memories move back and forth in a collage. A three-day fast in the Canadian boonies brings visions that confirm his place in nature and a special affinity with bears. This sacred place is where he wants to be buried. His wife Cynthia, a teacher, follows with an account of memories of her life with Donald, with early love for him at 14 and an escape with from a shattered family through elopement. In working out her grief, she finds a boon in the support of her children. Her balance is shaky in the face of her adult daughter’s obsession with the possibility of Donald’s spirit being in a bear. The third section is from K, a young man who was Donald’s true friend and fishing companion, the lover of his daughter, and one who secretly loves Cynthia. He recognizes that his oddities include treating life as a movie to be reviewed and edited. Yet he is reliable in helping Donald the most with his plans for his death and burial.The final section is the story of David Burkitt, Cynthia’s brother and the main character in the previous novel on the family, True North. He is the conscience for the family, one who seeks to expiate the greed of his ancestors and his father in stripping resources through logging and mining. He spent many years writing a history of his family’s sins in the UI and now spends half his life in Mexico working to reduce the dangers and mortality experienced by illegals crossing the border. The loss of Donald shakes him up, leading him to conclude that Death gives us a shove into a new sort of landscape. Donald’s passing seems to motivate him to resolve unfinished emotional business surrounding a horrendous crime of his father three decades before, the drunken rape of a 12-year old Mexican girl visiting their family (a key event in the prior book and summarized in the first few pages of this book). Harrison is well respected as a poet, and his special way of building emotional resonance with a spare use of adjectives is evident in his prose here. For example, here is part of Donald’s account of his sojourn in the wilderness: In my three days I was able to see how creatures including insects looked at me rather than just how I saw them. I became a garter snake that tested the air beside my left knee and the two chickadees that landed on my head. I was lucky enough to have my body fly over the countries of earth and also walk the bottom of oceans, which I’d always been curious about. I was scared at one point when I descended into the earth and when I came up I was no longer there.David lives this potent thought: One of the truest things I’ve ever heard is that the evil men do lives after them. Donald and Cynthia come to suspect that the evils of Burkitt senior had a lot to do with the evils of his war experiences in the defense of the Philippines in World War 2. In contrast, David’s moral path is to hold to the kernel: There are no damaged goods when everyone is damaged goods. Harrison obviously loves his characters, as he breathes such life in them and nutures their development. I thought the ending to this bittersweet collage especially rewarding, as each of the main characters takes the next steps toward ever renewing life. I’ve read eight other Harrison novels and rank this pair of novels second only to Dalva.

Very good. Some of it extremely good. Divided into four sections told from the POV of four different characters, the first is by far the most powerful—an account told by a dying man (dictated by his wife, with occasional explanatory asides) about the history of his family and then about an experience he had spending three days alone in the wilderness with no food or water. This last part ends his section, and damn is it powerful. Almost made me cry and would have had I been alone. Just really, really good, great meditation on death. Worth reading for this alone. "I wasn't too much bothered by my coming death because it's what happens to all living things sooner or later. Later would be better but it's not for me to decide." Also an account of a raven's funeral with is just breathtaking/heartbreaking. Okay, we then move to a new character, "K," a friend of the previous narrator (Donald) and also a sort of son to him. This section seemed a little light after the power of the previous, but it's still got Harrison's signature style, so was enjoyable. We then move to David's section, which I found strange as David is only Donald's brother in law and not really a character I'd expect to focus on. We learn about David's missionary work in Mexico, bringing miniature survival packs for people trying to cross the border, and it's sort of like . . . what does this have to do with Donald or with Donald's death or with, really, anything. For the fourth section we return to reality and get Donald's wife's take on things, which was all good. The sections are chronological, so the second (K's) concerns Donald's burial, which is also a great account. Section IV shows Donald's wife in the aftermath (about a year later) of her husband's death, how she's learning to move on and how she's still affected. Amongst all this are the various other family members, and their respective trials/tribulations. Just an all-around really good book. Get rid of that David section and (since I'd always ask for more Harrison) beef up the other three, and we're really talking. A very good if not perfect (what is?) book about death. Harrison always sounds like Harrison but he does a good job making Cynthia (Donald's wife) sound distinct. I couldn't really believe David—he didn't seem like the typical close-to-nature, spiritual Harrison character.

Do You like book Returning To Earth (2007)?

Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “a master … who makes the ordinary extraordinary, the unnamable unforgettable,” beloved author Jim Harrison returns with a masterpiece—a tender, profound, and magnificent novel about life, death, and finding redemption in unlikely places. Slowly dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Donald, a middle-aged Chippewa-Finnish man, begins dictating family stories he has never shared with anyone, hoping to preserve history for his children. The dignity of Donald’s death and his legacy encourages his loved ones to find a way to redeem—and let go of—the past, whether through his daughter’s emersion in Chippewa religious ideas or his mourning wife’s attempt to escape the malevolent influence of her own father. A deeply moving book about origins and endings, and how to live with honor for the dead, Returning to Earth is one of the finest novels of Harrison’s long, storied career, and will confirm his standing as one of the most important American writers now working.

A fitting sequel to True North, set twenty years later in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, this book is a thousand times better than any ice bucket challenge video as it relates to its character and his family as they deal with his life and death from ALS. It always takes me a little while to get used to Harrisons writing style. He is far more Faulkner than Hemingway, some of his paragraphs could compose of entire chapters in most fiction. But, I quickly came to relish this quality and enjoyed the fact that story was told in four parts. First we hear it from Donald, as he dictates his perspective to his wife, Cynthia, because the disease had progressed to the point where he could no longer use most of his body. Next, we get to experience the ways in which his daughter Clare, who is most like her father, views his final days and the period immediately after his passing. Then it is his brother in law, David, who was the narrator in True North, and who sees everything sort of off kilter. And finally, from his spouse, we get the final lessons about the grief process. Lots of good stuff here, including Native American spirituality, history and love, not to mention mourning and loss.

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