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Monday, June 17, 2013

The Land of Unlikeness by Jim Harrison

Heading off to tend to his ailing eighty-five year old mother, Clive, driving the familiar roads of Michigan, is a sad sack sixty-one year old once artist now art professor, divorced, and out of a job because he was attacked is whom we meet in The Land of Unlikeness by Jim Harrison. He misses turns, he drives slowly, and he stops to delay his arrival to the house in which he grew up. He is spelling his sister, Margaret, who is taking her first trip to Europe. He examines the paintings, which were hung by his sister, of his youth, where he learned to paint. He examines them with a more critical eye and remembers his youth. He wonders about the time he was an artist and how that changed so that now he was an art professor. Clive ventures out into the thicket to get away and to walk. He naps and dreams of his childhood sweetheart, Laurette. He wakes and is lost as he always was and remembers the time he went fishing with his dad and had to go back for the forgotten worms in the truck. Margaret is blowing a dog whistle cause she knows he is lost and he ambles home, scratched and worn out. Mother, Margaret, and Clive spend the last evening together with a mediocre meal, lacking spices and flavor. Margaret is ready two hours before departure the next day. She can’t wait to get on the road. Clive is left with mom and Margaret has told him his old sweetheart has ought the family home, which is next door. 

While washing his mom’s car, Laurette shows up, invites him for drinks at six and drives off. His mom warns him not to go, but he does. He meets Laurette’s female lover, Lydia, who treats Clive badly. After two drinks he stumbles home and his mom pours a pitcher of water on him as he has fallen on the front lawn. And here Clive is supposed to be taking care of his eighty-five year old mom. Slowly he missed NYC less. He looked forward to getting to his canvas each morning. “The Great Debate began to arise, something that had been with him most poignantly for six decades or so, philosophically and politically: the conviction that mayhem rules and nothing solidly constructive can be done about it.” I concur as I reflect on my own habit of watching the DVR’d Daily Show and The Colbert Report every morning with my breakfast before a bike ride or yard chores. I, too, found the move here had its moments of regret about the need for NYC, but that soon abated and now trips to NYC are not needed but done to see people and then escape to this, my first love. I’m reading now with such joy and no encumbrances like work. His mom reflects on Clive’s painting again. “But I’m glad you’re painting again. Way back when you were an artist you were happier. You’d come out for the summer visit with Tessa and Sabrina and we’d have picnics and we drove up to Mackinac Island and stayed in a fancy hotel. Remember? When you became a big shot professor you always acted like you were at a funeral.” Clive has come full circle back to his first love. He has sublet the NYC apartment for six months and will use the other six as a wandering painter. 
I can relate to how we get to our second life and appreciate the now as my hummingbirds scurry about the feeder and the sound of early morning chatter, the monotonous waves pounding continually even when I’m not there, and the road racing along under my handlebars. And then I find myself relaxed with my first love, a book.

1 comment:

heavy hedonist said...

Sounds like a good story, though I know a few more of the twists and turns now than I prefer before finishing a book! But the process is most of it, yes?

I'll check it out, I need a break from sci-fi this month.