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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Arts and Entertainment

Acclaimed author visits Hailey Cultural Center

Jim Harrison speaks at community event

Express Staff Writer

At first, the reader of Jim Harrison’s new book "True North" might want to slap the protagonist upside the head. That’s how navel gazing he appears. But as the book, newly published by Grove Press, continues, a different man emerges and Harrison’s style is revealed. It’s not navel gazing in the Holden Caulfield way. It’s an intriguing journey into a life ravaged by issues beyond one’s control.

Harrison is appearing 4 p.m. Sunday, May 9, at the Community Campus Theater in Hailey The event is presented as a benefit for the Hailey Cultural Center and in recognition of Ezra Pound, who was born in the house.

Considered one of America’s finest writers, Harrison is the author of 10 collections of poetry, seven collections of essays, eight novels and four volumes of novellas, including "Legends of the Fall." His work is deep and soulful; superficiality has no place in his world.

Harrison’s characters, like the author, love nature, dogs, fishing, hunting and drinking. They are Hemingway-like without the overt machismo. His characters waver between reality and a parallel universe in their heads, crammed with running commentary, snippets culled from former professors and random recollections. Reminiscences aren’t revealed in linear anecdotes. Instead, they seem to float up through the character’s body, invade his thoughts and send him and the reader into trances removed from the action.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—known as the U.P., and the people who inhabit it as Uppers—is where "True North" is set, though there are travels made within the 30-year span of time covered in "True North."

David Burkett is the melancholy scion of a timber baron family that desecrated hundreds of thousands of acres by cutting woodland in the U.P. His mother is absent in her pill-popping avoidance and his father is a brute, "so purely awful that he was a public joke."

Young David’s mentors are his Uncle Fred, a former priest and expansive sot; the half-Chippewa Indian and half-Finnish yardman Clarence; and Jessie, a Mexican vet who served in the Army with David’s father and now is his aide. His sister is "the only honest human in the history of your family," and she speaks the truth when David cannot see it. Despite the fact that she is younger, she is the sage to his muddled mind.

David withdraws to remote cabins, rows his boat aimlessly, counts stumps left by his forebears and often seems in danger of becoming quite lost. The conflict to have a life of relative normalcy is his battle to renounce his father while bringing peace to his own life by seeking forgiveness for the harm others have done. Along the way, he inevitably—and not incidentally—chases a few women, some of whom affect his life in profound ways.

A reviewer in the New York Times Book Review wrote, "There is a singular comfort in knowing on the first page of a novel, that you are in the hands of a master."

Indeed, "True North" may be Harrison’s best work. Paired with his recent memoir, "Off to the Side," which was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, the true Harrison is revealed. A man vividly attuned to the earth and his homeland, he loves life yet carries a longing in him for something just beyond his grasp.

Harrison, who lives in Montana, is coming to Hailey for the Community One-Book Program, which was made possible in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, and is sponsored by Silver Creek Outfitters, Iconoclast Books and the Works of Grace Foundation.

Marc Johnson, chairman of the Idaho Humanities Council, will interview Harrison on stage. A question and answer session and book signing will follow.

Harrison is the second Artist-in-Residence at the Hailey Cultural Center, which is located in the Ezra Pound birthplace in Hailey. A patrons’ dinner is being held immediately after the reading at the Hailey Cultural Center. Tickets for the event are available at Iconoclast Books and Silver Creek Outfitters in Ketchum and Read All About It in Hailey. Adult tickets are $8, and student tickets are $5. For more information, contact Gary Hunt at 726-1564.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.