Jim Harrison is a grand old man of American letters--the literary equivalent of Keith Richards, a man of large appetites and the lines on his face to prove it. The wise but profligate Brown Dog is a signature Harrison character in much the same way that Richards's open-tuned chords define the Stones. Brown Dog, a new collection of novellas featuring the eponymous "B.D.," is the perfect antidote to a Twitter feed of global violence, natural disaster and political posturing.
A mixed-race orphan loner, Brown Dog lives in various handmade shacks amid the forests and rivers below the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a place where "if you don't like pan fishing, ice fishing, snowmobiling or applying mosquito dope you're out of luck." Add drinking beer and schnapps, raising dogs, cooking from scratch and chasing women, and you pretty much have Brown Dog's indolent days nailed down. He is one of the great characters in American literature--as American as Twain's Huck Finn or Hemingway's Nick Adams. Raised by his Grandpa with backwoods wisdom, the adult B.D. always seems to be "just getting along... doing ok but nothing special. He is known far and wide for doing a good day's work if you can find him."
Among the six novellas in Brown Dog, only "He Dog" appears for the first time and neatly balances 1990's "Brown Dog," which opens the collection as the rakish character discovers a dead Indian rumored to be his father while illegally diving for shipwreck loot in Lake Superior. Although B.D. most often searches for sex or an untrammeled trout stream, he also constantly speculates on the history of his unknown parents. In "He Dog," he finally discovers something of their story from the only family he has left: Gretchen, the lesbian mother of his daughter. He is mystified by Gretchen's lack of sexual interest in him despite his continuing mid-50s priapic lust, but accepts that her love and their daughter are all he's going to get--that, a place to build a shack on her land and an amateur painting of his parents given to him by his 88-year-old uncle Delmore.
If age hasn't diminished his appetites, at least the restless Brown Dog finds some peace. "The love of a woman and your own cabin sounded dandy," he realizes--or, as Jagger and Richards put it: "You can't always get what you want... you get what you need." --Bruce Jacobs
Shelf Talker: In this omnibus collection of Brown Dog novellas, Harrison's bawdy character pursues women, booze, shelter, trout streams--and the truth.