Legends of the Fall (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
Legends of the Fall brings to mind an introduction which Tom Wolfe wrote several years ago for a collection of “New Fiction” which had been published in Esquire magazine. After noting the pervasive nihilistic tone of the collection, Wolfe observed that nihilism is now an accepted literary convention, “and conventions in literature are like conventions anywhere else: they are marks of grace and propriety, not wounds of the soul.” The writers of these dark fables, he guesses, are young, “in good animal health,” and “have kept their credit rating up. . . .” The three novellas collected in Legends of the Fall are full of spectacular violence, sickening cruelty, and unredeemed suffering. The author’s long view of the human condition is neatly summarized by an epitaph in the title story:
SAMUEL DANT LUDLOW 1897-1915WE WILL NOT SEE HIMBUT WE SHALL JOIN HIM
Yet Legends of the Fall is no encounter with demons; it is a very entertaining book. Much of the pleasure derives from Jim Harrison’s mastery of various literary conventions, as deft and as openly artificial as any sonneteer’s. This is not fiction which aims to make you forget that you are holding a book in your hands. His...
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