Harrison, Jim 1937-
(Born James Thomas Harrison; also writes as James Harrison) American short story writer, poet, novelist, scriptwriter, and critic.
Known for his strong sense of the outdoors, Harrison's short fiction is written in a variety of styles and forms, including adventure stories, historically-based fiction, and accounts of spiritual quests. He frequently employs allusion and figurative language in short narratives that offer energetic and humorous explorations of displacement, brutality, and the destruction of the environment. His rural roots, his tendency toward understatement, his gift of compression, and the theme of violence in much of his work have inevitably led to comparisons with Ernest Hemingway.
Born in Grayling, a rural town in northern Michigan, Harrison grew up amidst forests, rivers, and wildlife, images of which figure largely in his prose and poetry. He began writing poetry in college, and published his first collection, Plain Song, while studying for his Master's degree at Michigan State University. Harrison received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1968 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1969; these awards allowed him to write full time. He has continued to live at his farm in northern Michigan while composing poetry, novels, short fiction, and commentary published in various periodicals, including a column for Esquire magazine.
Harrison received both critical and popular acclaim for Legends of the Fall, a collection of three novellas. Although differing in plot and subject matter, these pieces are bound by a common focus on obsession, revenge, and violence. The novellas comprising The Woman Lit by Fireflies are distinguished by their disparate depictions of characters undergoing a midlife crisis. In the title story, an unhappy, middle-aged woman named Clare escapes from a rest stop into a corn field while travelling across Iowa with her husband. Her newfound freedom is tempered by a lonely, rainy night fraught with self-evaluation, self-discovery, and the onslaught of a migraine headache. In Julip, Harrison's third collection, the three novellas concentrate on the war between the sexes. In the title story, a strong young woman eventually frees her brother from jail after an arduous adventure with three ex-lovers. Critics lauded Harrison's creation of a complex, heroic female protagonist and noted the complementary nature of the stories contained in the volume.
Some commentators deride Harrison's protagonists for their adherence to antiquated codes of honor, asserting it often results in unrealistic, exaggerated instances of machismo. Critics usually concur that Harrison's success as a short fiction writer derives from his poetic talents, including his economic language, apt phrasing, and structural experimentation. Joseph Coates maintains that Harrison's "combination of poetic attentiveness to detail with the exemplary commonplaceness of the life he has continued to lead gives his work a genuine mythopoeic quality that is rare, if not unique, among contemporary American writers."