Thursday, May 21, 2009

Books: Wolf, by Jim Harrison

It must have been smut week, because after I finished with Innocents, I moved onto Wolf, a dime-store paperback a friend gave me last Christmas as a gag gift, which featured a svelte, long-haired couple embracing, topless, on the cover. A kind of On the Road (the book) meets Into the Wild (the movie), the thing turned out to be much less smutty than I expected, and it turns out that Harrison is actually a viable author (whose short stories became the film Legends of the Fall, and whose Wolf became a Jack Nicholson movie in 1994). Wolf, furthermore, is subtitled A False Memoir, a thing in which I have a special interest.

This is a fairly typical 1970s semi-fictional beat novel, except that Harrison’s narrator is a loner, so there are fewer instances of the madcap, freewheeling adventurism of Jack Kerouac or Henry Miller or Tom Wolfe’s book about the Merry Pranksters. The introspective narrator is camping alone in the woods; the passages shuttle back and forth from his swimming and fishing and fire-building to his memories of girls in cities, job applications he couldn’t bother to fill out, strangers in whose cars he hitch-hiked across the country.

There are far fewer sex scenes than promised (newer editions of the book do not feature the same cover photo), but that’s fine. The other deception is that no wolf ever appears, and while the narrator does mention the animal two or three times, he does not seem to be in search of it in the way the cover text suggests. Instead, the narrator himself is the lone wolf, a bit hang-dog in appearance, unwelcome in society, hungry, horny, but mostly wanting to be left alone, in the woods.

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