“Writers can write outside their ethnicity or sex depending how open and vulnerable they wish to be.” – Jim Harrison
“The Woman Lit By Fireflies” has to one of the most memorable stories of the 20th Century. The fact that its in the same volume as “Brown Dog” is remarkable. The fact that “Woman Lit…” was written by a man, at least to this man is stunning.
“Brown Dog” is wild and bawdy. Its main character, B.D., spews irreverent attitudes and recounts his narrow escapes and brass-knuckles view of the world.
Clare probes deeply into her own soul, mucking around in the deep interior of self-analysis, using imagined conversations to uproot ideas.
B.D., well, has no problem swearing.
During the course of “Woman Lit…” Clare utters her first profanity out loud, though nobody is there to hear it.
B.D. is tough as nails.
Clare’s walk through a cornfield is fraught with worry and angst.
If B.D. and Clare ever ran into each other, I wonder what they would have to say to each other. Probably nothing.
The tone, style, substance and point of view are so drastically different in these two stories that it’s hard to understand they are the same author’s work.
“Brown Dog” jumps out of the box from the first line: “Just before dark at the bottom of the sea I found the Indian.” B.D. is a diver who lives on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The story is, in a word, whacky. It could be a fable. It could be real. B.D.’s world is what’s in front of his face at that moment. It’s all about his current mission, his current concerns. One of those issues deals with recognizing his heritage and, of course, the frozen Indian comes into play. “Brown Dog” is hilarious, touching and over-the-top.
“Part of the problem of handling the future of the Chief was the article I had read in the Reader’s Digest in a barbership in Munising, where like Beatrice of yore the lead scalper thinks I have the worst head of hair in the Christian world. According to him, every single hair goes a different direction. This article said it is given to every man to have a few main chances in life, opportunities that will turn the whole thing around. While getting clipped it came to me my first chance had been when I sold Grandpa’s land cut-rate because I was in a rush to get to Alaska. This opportunity ended in the hospital in Bozeman. It was clear as day to me when I found the Chief that he was my second chance.”
“The Woman Lit By Fireflies” sets a more introspective tone, but the story is no less dramatic. Clare stands in for so many women stuck in a tough, demeaning relationship. She takes action. She wants to feel again. She wants to find herself and skips taking medicine with her on her journey because she prefers “pain-ridden consciousness.”
The writing in “Woman” is as feminine (it seemed to this male reviewer) as the writing in “Brown Dog” is masculine. Both stories deal with seizing opportunities.
(The middle story in this trilogy of novellas, “Sunset Limited” was just okay for me, though still a healthy dose of solid Jim Harrison and worth reading. My main problem with it was the heavy time spent on back-story and little time on actual in-the-moment action, particularly in the first half.)
“Brown Dog” and “Woman Lit…” are dazzling, muscular and all-American tales. Inspiring.
Postscript: I saw film version of “Revolutionary Road” the other night and I’m wondering if Clare, in “The Woman Lit By Fireflies,” could relate to April Wheeler. There’s even a scene in “Revolutionary Road” where April takes off running for the woods, much like Clare to the fields. Both women are seeking to shed a dull existence, although April Wheeler and her husband Frank seem (at first) to recognize that they want more than the suburbs and its dead ends, that they are better than their surroundings. Clare has no such awareness.