Friday, June 1, 2012

The English Major (Novel)

The world is a wobbly place and so is my mind.
States. Birds. Road Trip. English Majors. Deaths. Divorce. Butts. Cell Phones. Puzzle Pieces. Transitions. 

The English Major by Jim Harrison won the 2008 New York Times Notable Book Award. It belongs to the “now what do I do with my life” genre of novels. The book is light, semi-rambling, humorous, and at times poignant and profound. Cliff, the main character and narrator, is incredibly likable. The only thing irritating about the novel, at least from a female point of view, is his semi-adolescent thoughts about sex.

Briefly, after Cliff’s wife divorces him, his dog dies, and the land he has been farming for the past 25 years is sold, Cliff goes on a road trip that is inspired by a childhood puzzle of the United States. Early in the trip, Cliff meets up with Marybelle, who was a student of his before he started farming. They travel together. At the beginning, Marybelle is the fulfillment of one of Cliff’s fantasies. After a time, she becomes an irritant and a hindrance to his need to experience nature and ponder his life. Cliff believes that one of his purposes in life is to rename the 50 states and their state birds. Cliff’s adult, gay son gives him advice on what to do with his life. Cliff’s ex-wife and his alcoholic doctor friend also interfere. By the end of the story, Cliff is ready to start the next phase of his life.

After reading so much lop-off-their-heads fantasy, The English Major was refreshing. It reminds me what it is like to be human: to love, lose, and try to love again.

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