I always like to review books from authors from my home state of Michigan. So today, I present to you a special one as parts of this book have been adapted into two movies (I’ll review both of them someday). It’s Jim Harrison’s 1979 debut set of novellas Legends of the Fall. He is known as “America’s foremost master” in that genre. While I can see some appeal to that work, it’s not my cup of tea.
Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison is three stories in one. The titular novella is about three brothers and their lives of passion, madness, exploration, and danger at the beginning of World War I. The other two are Revenge, which shows how love causes a man’s life to be altered in drastic ways, and The Man Who Gave Up His Name, which deals with a man who’s unable to give up his obsessions with women, dancing, and food.
Since the book is three short stories, it’s best to review each of them individually. First on the chopping block is Revenge. Even though it starts off pretty slow (Harrison likes to digress), once the hero is introduced and how he got all mangled and left on the side of the road, it took a hold on me. I wanted him and his lady love – a woman who’s married to a crime boss – to be together. Oh, and it doesn’t help that the hero is friends with the crime boss. It was pretty intriguing.
Next is The Man Who Gave Up His Name. The summary that I gave earlier doesn’t fully describe the story itself (I took it from the book’s blurb), for it makes the main character look like he’s going on a self-destructive path. It’s really about a man only known as Nordstorm who’s going through a midlife crisis after his ex-wife and daughter call him out for being “unimaginative” and indifferent. This one is my favorite of the novellas mainly because I liked reading about this awkward guy exploring the world around him at a time in his life where he has already found so much success. My only complaint is that the violent subplot pops out of nowhere and comes up too close to the ending.
Finally, it’s the title novella itself. If it weren’t for this story, where would Brad Pitt’s career be? (I’m aware that Interview With a Vampire was also released in the same year as Legends of the Fall, but still.) I liked how the book explored sibling dynamics among the brothers, especially between Tristan and Alfred, and how the father reacts to their decisions. However, I’m going to be honest. This was my least favorite story of the bunch. This is for many reasons like my expectations, but the main one is that it emphasizes the parts of Harrison’s works that I’m not a fan of. It’s too macho and self-indulgent for me. For instance, did we need all the details of Tristan’s voyages? In addition, there’s a lot of telling, but not much showing. For example, when Susannah – Tristan’s first wife – loses her mind when she’s married to Alfred, Harrison basically repeats that she goes mad, instead of showing how she does that. I liked reading those parts involving Susannah, but because the author glossed over them to tell more of Tristan’s travels and other stuff, I felt disappointed.
In 2014, Harrison told The Atlantic that it took him nine days to write this particular story after thinking about it for a long time. When he re-read it, he only had to change one word. In other words, he made word vomit. I get that he was thinking primarily of Tristan, and that character and other male ones are pretty fleshed out. It’s a good character study; I personally wish that he made more revisions to make it more concise in some parts and show more.
Despite all of this, I still look forward to seeing the movie since it’s supposed to be different from the novella.
All in all, the suite Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison is pretty okay. There were parts that I liked, and there were ones that could’ve been improved. I would recommend to those who like books by Michigan authors, character studies, and the masculine elements. In the meantime, I plan to watch the film versions of Revenge and Legends of the Fall for the future, so keep an eye out for those reviews.