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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although he is a novelist by nature, Jim Harrison has written three collections of novellas, including LEGENDS OF THE FALL (1976), THE WOMAN LIT BY FIREFLIES (1990), and most recently, JULIP (1994), novellas that examine the roles that strong, vivacious women play in the lives of men who desperately need to be saved.

In the title novella, Julip is a twenty-one-year-old dog trainer whose brother Bobby is in prison for shooting the three men who, in his words, have “defiled my sister.” The three men, to whom the narrator refers as the Boys—a writer, a painter, and a photographer— ritually head down to Key West to play out their boyish fantasies as faux outdoorsmen. They are men swallowed up by their own solipsism, gripped by the crisis called Middle Age—men who, in the hands of another writer, say Hemingway or a younger Jim Harrison himself, would be billed as heroic; though the Jim Harrison of JULIP sees them clearly for who and what they are: “petrified babies suspended in dreamless sleep.”

In “The Seven-Ounce Man,” Harrison returns to his native state, Michigan, to revisit his old mongrel pal Brown Dog, that backwoods malcontent whose rollicking, roll-in-the-hay, self-titled memoir of petty thievery and blackmail was broadcast back a few years ago in THE WOMAN LIT BY FIREFLIES. Now, that lovable mangy mutt Brown Dog is back and back in trouble with the law, back to a life of hunting and chasing women and chasing it all down with a long, wet kiss from his beloved whiskey bottle.

“The Beige Dolorosa” is a tale told by Phillip Caulkins, a fifty-year-old English professor, a hanger-on to worn-out mythologies, a man exiled from a...

(The entire section is 407 words.)