Cover image for True north : a novel
True north : a novel
Harrison, Jim, 1937-2016.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
388 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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David Burkett 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 this family tragedy of betrayal and amends, joy and grief, and justice for the worst of our sins.

Author Notes

James Thomas Harrison was born on December 11, 1937 in Grayling, Michigan. After receiving a B.A. in comparative literature from Michigan State University in 1960 and a M.A. in comparative literature from the same school in 1964, he briefly taught English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

During his lifetime, he wrote 14 collections of poetry, 21 volumes of fiction, two books of essays, a memoir, and a children's book. His collections of poetry included Plain Song, The Theory and Practice of Rivers, Songs of Unreason, and Dead Man's Float. He received a Guggenheim fellowship for his poetry in 1969. His essays on food, much of which first appeared in Esquire, was collected in the 2001 book, The Raw and the Cooked. His memoir, Off to the Side, was published in 2002.

His first novel, Wolf, was published in 1971. His other works of fiction included A Good Day to Die, Farmer, The Road Home, Julip, and The Ancient Minstrel. His novel, Legends of the Fall, was adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt. Harrison wrote the screenplay for the movie. His novel, Dalva, was adapted as a made-for-television movie starring Rod Steiger and Farrah Fawcett. He died on March 26, 2016 at the age of 78.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Harrison is a novelist of the North Woods. Frozen lakes, remote cabins, and beer-drinking buddies are the decor of his fiction. He writes with prose that is at once well muscled and delicate. His latest novel, set primarily in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is the tale of a boy growing to manhood and hoping to be a conscientious human being once he arrives there. David Burkett comes from a long line of men who made considerable money ruining the forests and endangering the pristine ecology of the U.P. The novel begins as a delightful picaresque yarn. Accepting or at least understanding his family's past and, more specifically, his father's abusiveness is the overarching meaning of David's journey. But the chronology becomes too disjointed and confusing, and the underlying theme of the personal redressing of the sins of one's father remains too underlying, too diffusely explored, and fails to hold the plot elements together. David's trail to adulthood becomes a series of episodes, which, while rich in moments, never quite gels into a focused picture. Still, readers of literary fiction will certainly enjoy those beautifully told moments, and Harrison has a devoted following who will be requesting this new title. --Brad Hooper Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Agent, Bob Dattila at Phoenix Literary Agency. (May) Forecast: Like his well-received memoir, Off to the Side, this meaty novel gives Harrison-screenwriter, food critic, journalist and prolific novelist-the room to explore his native Michigan and its complicated citizens in rich and lengthy detail. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Narrator David Burkett gets right to the point on the first page of this book, proclaiming "My father was so purely awful that he was a public joke in our area." And truly the man is a monster: he rides roughshod over his family, rapes the daughter of his faithful valet, sells off a cabin willed to David by a black-sheep uncle, and presides over a family logging firm that has been despoiling Michigan's Upper Peninsula for decades. David can't quite stand up to him, though he begins avidly researching his family's misdeeds; his neurasthenic mother merely drifts about. His sister, Cynthia, is the only one with any gumption, cheekily telling off her dad while getting pregnant by the mixed-blood Finnish-Chippewa son of the family gardener (and this is the not-quite-liberated mid-Sixties, for goodness' sake). One wishes that Cynthia had narrated, for perhaps she could have redeemed this tale. David's account of his soul searching and various sexual grapplings is strangely flat and listless, which is surprising, given Harrison's reputation for acute and well-rendered insight in his numerous works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry (e.g., The Road Home). There will, however, be definite interest where Harrison is popular.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.