True North-Jim Harrison-hardcover

Deborah Herman

An epic tale that pits a son against the legacy of his family’s desecration of the earth, and his own father’s more personal violations, True North is a beautiful and moving novel that speaks to the territory in our hearts that calls us back to our roots. The scion of a family of wealthy timber barons, David Burkett has grown up with a father who is a malevolent force, and a mother made vague and numb by alcohol and pills. He and his sister Cynthia, a firecracker who scandalizes the family at fourteen by taking up with the son of their Finnish-Native American gardener, are mostly left to make their own way. As David comes to adulthood, he realizes he must come to terms with his forefathers’ rapacious destruction of the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, as well as with the working people who made their wealth possible. In the story of the Burketts, Jim Harrison has given us a family tragedy of betrayal and amends, joy and grief, and justice for the worst of our sins. True North is a bravura performance from one of our finest writers, accomplished with deep humanity, humor, and redemptive soul.

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In a new novel by the author of Off on the Side, the son of a wealthy family of timber barons struggles to reconcile himself with the damage his family has done to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula–a scarring that cuts deeply into the fabric of his own family.

From Publishers Weekly

If the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons, what should a son do to provide moral recompense? In Harrison’s earnest, initially riveting new novel, narrator David Burkett decides as a teenager in the 1960s that he must rectify the ecological damage done to his beloved Upper Peninsula area of Michigan by his rapacious timber baron ancestors. More immediately, he vows to tell the world about the rapes and abuses committed by his alcoholic father, a charismatic Yale graduate with an egregious sense of entitlement. After a foray into organized religion, David finds spiritual solace in the stark natural world, described by Harrison in soaring prose. Unable to sustain emotional connection with any woman other than his older sister, David has brief liaisons with four women, but he feels more pain over the death of his dog than of his marriage. Meanwhile, he spends decades working on a history of his despised family, only to realize that he is a dud as a writer. By this time, he’s in his late 30s, a man who has never achieved maturity because his father hangs like an albatross around his neck. A master of surprise endings (Dalva, etc.), Harrison pulls off a bravura climax when David attempts to reconcile with his feckless father. By this time, though, the reader may have tired of the monochromatic narrative, composed mainly of David’s anguished introspection and depressed dreams. Still, Harrison’s tragic sense of history and his ironic insight into the depravities of human nature are as potent as ever and bring deeper meaning to his (eventually) redemptive tale.


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