Rarely does one encounter a memoir so filled with the details of a life lived. Whether recalling bits of his past as a depressed child, manual laborer, Hollywood screenwriter, aspiring poet, novelist, or alcoholic husband, Jim Harrison pauses to analyze these moments–the cause and effect–and the choices that have made him who he is. Loosely divided into chapters, Off to the Side is somewhat rambling, and Harrison’s opinions and conclusions occasionally remain obscure (“nearly everything you hear about Mexicans in the great north is utterly untrue”)–but, to the benefit of readers, Harrison is never at a loss for ideas.
The solace Harrison finds in the natural world is most compelling, and it could be said he, too, shares Frost’s “lover’s quarrel with the world.” After losing an eye at an early age and sinking into melancholy, Harrison’s father advised that “curiosity will get you through hard times when nothing else will. Your curiosity had to be strong enough to lift you out of your self-sunken mudbath, the violent mixture of hormones, injuries, melancholy, and dreams of a future you not only couldn’t touch but could scarcely see.” These words were not lost on Harrison. With “no expertise outside of [his] own imagination” Harrison plays to his strengths in Off to the Side by setting down the events, experiences, thoughts, and feelings that have shaped his quite literate, truly American life. –Michael Ferch