In late February I read a novel by Jim Harrison (perhaps best known for Legends of the Fall) that those who enjoy tales of the road will find a lot of fun—The English Major (2008), which I happened to find on sale for a buck at my local library in a hardcover edition [Sorry, Mr. Harrison, to cut you out of a well-deserved royalty payment].
And, before I forget, if you like Jim Harrison and road books in general but especially those from oldtimers, you’ll want to track down the late Edward Abbey’s The Fool’s Progress. Well worth your time. (I never met Abbey in person but, shortly before he died, he responded to a letter of mine, promising to take a look at an advance review copy of my first thriller, Storm Track [even though the genre was not one in which he normally read], with the goal of possibly providing a blurb. He died before he could follow up on that. Hey, I hope it wasn’t my thriller that killed him!) But back to Harrison and The English Major.
Harrison’s protagonist, writing in the first person, has one of the best definitions of a liberal I’ve ever read (in a work of fiction). Here’s what the sixty-something man has to say shortly before his divorce (and I’ve cut a bit from the middle of this passage):
This last day was especially hard because Viv [his wife] was not a liberal democrat like myself and made no attempt at fairness while she was splitting up our mutual possessions … During summer heat waves when we were sprinkling the yard so it wouldn’t turn brown Viv made no attempt when moving the sprinkler to make sure each patch of yard got its fair share of water. Liberal democrats, like me, are careful about such things. When you’re throwing out cracked corn to chickens and one is late arriving you throw an extra handful her way. When slopping the pigs I always made sure I carried my walking stick to do some gut poking to allow the runt to get a goodly share.
Very nice! But speaking of pigs … As a high schooler I did my share of slopping pigs, including a sow that I bought for 25 bucks when she was still a wiener and raised along with the family pigs and Angus cattle. My sow (I don’t recall ever naming her) had 17 piglets her first time out, which back then felt like a world record to me, especially with me out there in the birthing shed cleaning off the birth sack as the piglets popped out, clipping eye teeth (so they wouldn’t injure or upset the sow when suckling), and tying off and cutting the umbilical cords after which I’d dip the end in iodine. But whereas Harrison’s protagonist uses a stick for “gut poking” we used a cut-off piece of broom handle to whack them across the snout if they got too greedy or stepped in the trough (half of an old hot water heater cut vertically). It takes a lot to make a pig mind!
Conclusion? Maybe I wasn’t so liberal at the time. Brute force reigns on a farm!
Anyway, read Jim Harrison’s The English Major for a fine, fun time—on the road again.