The Beast God Forgot to Invent

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9780871138217: The Beast God Forgot to Invent

A new collection of novellas from the author of Legends of the Fall explores the line between civilization and the "wild men." 65,000 first printing. $75,000 ad/promo. First serial, Men's Journal.

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Review:

At 67, Norman Arnz is well aware of his narrative limitations: "I dare say that no one understands more than the part of the story that is directly contiguous to them." Yet the conjunction of placement and perception is crucial to both him and his tale. The title novella in Jim Harrison's The Beast God Forgot to Invent takes the form of Arnz's written report explaining the death by drowning of a lifetime resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Slow, different, backward--Joe Lacort had been labeled all these and more since a car accident illustrated "the Newtonian principle that an object in motion (your head) tends to remain in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced or unequal force (in Joe's case, a massive gray beech tree)."

What Arnz realizes, to his dismay and envy, is that this man "had crossed over a line into an otherness of perception that was unavailable to the rest of us," that his "sense of time has become hopelessly round while ours is linear." Joe's story, told as Arnz circles back and back, questing for original cause, is the story of mapping oneself and one's place in a profoundly captivating--and dislocating--universe. "Maybe," he ponders, "the world really doesn't look like the one I've been seeing all along. That was one of the questions Joe offered." These questions, and answers, are relayed by an astonishing voice: Harrison gives his narrator an oddly intoxicating blend of E.B. White's wry irony and perfectly matter-of-fact precision and Humbert Humbert's solipsistic bravura and edgy suspiciousness.

And the other two novellas are equally engaging. In "Westward Ho," a Michigan Native American finds himself on a quixotic quest through Los Angeles in pursuit of a stolen bearskin. An assortment of jaded Sancho Panzas aid (I use the term loosely) Brown Dog in his search. Sentimental without being trite, the story soars easily above potential "small-town Indian, big city" limitations. "I Forgot to Go to Spain" returns to a first-person narrator, a glib biographer suspicious that "the language I was using to describe myself to myself might be radically askew."

Harrison is a rare beast, an author whose ideas are at once grand and simple. His prose is so tantalizingly right that you might be tempted to gather his sentences and fling yourself into their midst, just for the sheer pleasure of it all. --Kelly Flynn

From Booklist:

Like his other fiction, Harrison's fourth volume of novellas takes hold of you through the sweetly intoxicating influence and power of his narrative voices, from which strong characterizations flow. As usual, he blends nature with culture, more often than not folding the latter into the former in subtle ways that show us that no matter how hard we try we just can't divorce ourselves from the big picture. The title novella, set in Michigan, takes the form of a written report to a coroner in which a wealthy 67-year-old man--a cultured and savvy narrator who has vacationed in Michigan's Upper Peninsula since childhood--describes events leading to the drowning of his younger friend, Joe. Joe, himself, had been a successful businessman until a car accident and ensuing brain damage had outwardly "enfeebled" him, though in reality turned him more primal. The narrative is far more than a report, as Joe's actions prompt the narrator to examine his own life and his philosophy toward life. In "Westward Ho," a Native American (from Michigan) tracks a double-dealing friend to L.A. to recover his stolen bearskin, which holds sentimental clan value. Brown Dog's adventures in Lotus Land are helped along by characters who are as jaded, eccentric, and cynical as any you're likely to come across this side of Nathanael West. "I Forgot to Go to Spain" is a return to the first-person narrator, which Harrison employs so well. This time the protagonist is a middle-aged writer of knockoff biographies that have made him a lot of money but also sidetracked him from literature--and a trip to an idealized Spain that he had dreamed of since college. It's familiar theme is rescued by a glib narrator unafraid to reveal the contradictions and errors of his thinking, and whose leap into the past (reminiscences and a reunion with an ex-wife) clears a bold path for his future. The novella has reemerged over the past few years, and these tales prove that Jim Harrison is a master of the genre. Frank Caso
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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