Months ago I picked up Jim Harrison’s latest novel, Returning to Earth. It languished for months on my night table together with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Elizabeth Berg’s Eat, Pray, Love, A.J. Jacobs’ The Know it All, Bill Walsh’s The Elephant’s of Style and assorted books of poetry. Divorce has a way of stealing joy from life’s simple pleasures, even reading, so I contemplated shelving all these books. But I didn’t, I started reading Returning to Earth.
Death and life – side by side, as it is meant to be, is the story’s central theme. There is much written about the deleterious effects of the way we live our lives – divorced from community and nature, experiencing everything second hand. We watch the weather, we don’t walk in it. We IM, email, or communicate via our blogs avoiding face to face encounters. We observe death from a comfortable distance whenever possible. If it touches our lives, it is out of sight, mind and mention, within a few short days.
Life, family and community are meant to be lived and experienced in all their messy, rich and poignant glory. Life takes time to live; death takes time to grieve. Sometimes life is so hard there is no explanation for how we go on; sometimes death is so cruel that it is a miracle life goes on at all. Harrison clearly knows this.
An interview with Jim Harrison in the New York Times: Pleasures of the Hard-Worn Life