“A sprawling, impressionistic memoir as roundabout as one of the author’s famous road trips. . . . A celebration of the hearty, sensual life.” Bruce Barcott, The New York Times Book Review
Off to the Side
978-0-8021-4030-2 • $16.00 • Paperback • Sep. 2003
For nearly forty years Jim Harrison has been one of America’s most-beloved writers, a literary giant who has given us American classics like Dalva, Legends of the Fall, and The Road Home. And he is perhaps just as loved for the spirit from which he writesdevoted to the senses, staunchly unpretentious, and ever mindful of the dangers of straying too far from our origins. It is this spirit of which The Oregonian wrote, “The magic of writing as good as Harrison’s is that it can bridge the gulf of human separation.” Now, for the first time, Jim Harrison has put pen to paper to write about his own lifea life that he captures with a riveting directness and a delightful, resonant music.
In Off to the Side, Harrison writes about his upbringing in Michigan, the austerities of life amid the Depression and the Second World War, and the seemingly greater austerities of his starchy Swedish forebears, who have inspired so much of his writing. He traces his coming-of-age, from a boy drunk with books to a young man making his way among fellow writers he deeply admiredwriters like Tom McGuane, Philip Caputo, Peter Matthiessen, Robert Lowell, W. H. Auden, Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Allen Ginsberg, among others.
Harrison writes forthrightly about the life-changing experience of becoming a father, and the minor cognitive dissonance when this boy from the “heartland” somehow ended up a highly paid Hollywood screenwriter. He gives free rein to his “seven obsessions”alcohol, France, stripping, hunting and fishing (and the dogs who have accompanied him in both), religion, the road, and our place in the natural worldwhich he elucidates with earthy wisdom and an elegant sense of connectedness. He returns always to his love of literaturefrom his first awakenings to the power of writing in his teens, and his youthful decision to model himself on Rimbaud, to how books have remained his center, sustaining him during the darkest times of his life. Above all, he delivers a joyful, meditative, candid, and wise book that is a paean to the complex delights of life.
The London Sunday Times has written that Jim Harrison is “a writer with immortality in him.” Now, for the first time, the personal stories and unbridled enthusiasms that feed Harrison’s magisterial fiction are available to his readers. Off to the Side is a work of great beauty and importance, a triumphant achievement that captures the writing life and brings us all clues for living.