In three novellas, Jim Harrison takes us on an American journey as he leads us through the wondrous landscape of the human heart. "Julip" follows a bright and resourceful young woman as she tries to spring her brother from a Florida jailhe shot three of her former lovers "below the belt." "The Seven-Ounce Man" continues the picaresque adventures of Brown Dog, a Michigan scoundrel who loves to eat, drink, and chase women, all while sailing along in the bottom 10 percent. "The Beige Dolorosa" is the haunting tale of an academic who, recovering from the repercussions of a sexual harassment scandal, turns to the natural world for solace. In each of these stories, the irresistible pull of nature becomes a magnificent backdrop for exploring the toughest questions about life and love.
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Julip got her name, a mixture of a flower and a drink, by her parents' design in the first flower of a somewhat alcoholic marriage. Her father bred, raised, and trained bird dogs of various breeds. Her mother was from one of the leading families of Ashland, Wisconsin. Lest anyone mock the fact, every community owns its leading families, which exist mostly as a result of hard work (if only in the distant past), at least modest prosperity, and being either Congregationalist or Episcopalian. It was, and is still, considered to have been a bad marriage for Julip's mother, Margaret, whose father, a dry-goods merchant, had sent her off to Lawrence College (a Germanic suckhole) at no moderate expense in hopes that she would marry well. It was a sad day for her father when Margaret threw over her porkish fiancé from Milwaukee in favor of a quick romance with a young man of few prospects from Duluth, with no possessions other than an old Ford convertible full of English setters. Margaret's father gave them a used car for their wedding because the convertible had no top.
It was a little startling to the dry-goods merchant to see his family business dissolve in the face of the usual shopping mall onslaught, while his daughter and her dog-trainer husband had their photos in society pages of Chicago and Milwaukee papers. It is a cultural oddity that dog trainers, golf and tennis pros, horse trainers, fishing guides, much like writers and artists, are socially acceptable in a way that wealthy parvenus never are. The tycoons of the Midwest who continue their boyhood passion for bird hunting can scarcely train their own dogs for reasons of time and specific skills. These men develop an unbalanced affection for dog trainers for the simple reason that the outdoorsmen appear to be less abstract and venal (untrue), and are leading a more manly life than can be led in a law office or brokerage house.
So Julip's father and mother had a foreshortened heyday until her birth and her dad's drinking reached levels of true impropriety. The year was divided between South and North. From November and the beginning of quail season to its end in March, they lived in various locations of Alabama, southern Georgia, northern Florida, settling by the time she was ten at a large plantation near Moncrief owned by Philadelphia people. By the end of March they headed back to the Ashland area, to a small farm of a hundred acres surrounded by cedar swamp, then broken again by fallow fields dense with dogwood and aspen, ideal cover for grouse and woodcock and the training of dogs.
They lived well enough, especially after her mother began cooking for rich folks, which doubled a modest income. Margaret was totally without talent or instinct for motherhood due to a panoply of neuroses that would never be unraveled, but was a genius in the kitchen. There were never less than a dozen dinner guests at the quail plantation and she was preoccupied with cooking to the point that she neglected her children, Julip and Bobby, and her husband, which made them feel lucky. It's an old word but Margaret was a virago, and even her silences were tortuous.
Julip liked to say she was raised in a trailer, but the quarters offered the dog trainer were a pleasant bungalow. She and Bobby had fled in her fourteenth year to a nearby trailer on the estate to escape their mother. Dad would frequently come over with a bottle of whiskey and they'd play a tearful game of gin rummy. Often he'd fall asleep on the trailer couch, waking at daylight to look after the dogs which at this estate numbered forty-eight English pointers and a few retrievers.
It was a schizophrenic upbringing, and if it were not for an interested teacher in each place she would not have been saved. She was not unlike the legion of dislocated armed-services brats to whom a true home has been, and will always be, an attractive fiction. But to the degree Julip was saved Bobby was shattered, both by the reality of their situation and by an imagination so errant it boggled the clinical psychologist after the shooting.
* * *
"Remember when," she said to Bobby, who was behind a pane of glass almost permanently, the glass soiled by breath, tears, fingers — the longing between prisoner and imprisoned. "Remember when we cut the hole in the trailer floor?"
His face was dissected by what appeared to be fine chicken wire embedded in the glass. She had lost him. His Adam's apple bobbed and his bad eye framed by the wire drifted off, ignoring her question.
"I like it here. I have a black friend named Ralph. I'm teaching him how to read and write because he doesn't know how. Ralph's gay."
"Is that what you have in mind for yourself?" she asked, trying to prolong his attention.
"No. You know that I'm nothing. Mom and you and Marcia saw to that. At least that's what they told me."
"So it's our fault," Julip said. "I don't doubt that. Everybody on earth fucks up everybody else. That's not exactly new, is it?" She only added the question to keep him going. Until now he had refused to see her, nor had he answered any of her letters the past three months.
"I doubt that. I believe in free will, not predestination. I told them what I did so I could stay in the Forensic Center. Another prisoner told me: Keep bullshitting, it's a lot better here than Raiford. There was a pond and birds out the window. So I said everything I could think of to keep them interested and stay there longer."
She glanced over at the clock and then behind her at a guard, who seemed to be studying her fanny on the chair with an intensity she had grown accustomed to over the years. She turned back to her brother with the whisper of an ache beneath her breastbone.
"I saw a new lawyer," she said. "He told me you would've got off if you admitted you were crazy. You would have spent a couple of years in the nut hatch, then got out. You still might be supposing that I can get your victims, judge, and prosecutor to agree to a change of plea on your part."
"No way. I'm not crazy. I shot those fuckheads out of free will and that's that. I admit that Dad told me it was okay."
"Bobby, you know Dad is dead." Tears flowed upward into her throat and his features blurred.
"Maybe he's dead to you, but not to me. He told me to go right ahead and shoot those who defiled my sister." Bobby became rigid for a moment at her tears which she hastily wiped away.
"I never once heard him use the word 'defile,' but maybe you did." She added the last to humor him. "How come you agreed to see me after all this time?"
"I need my little bait box. You know, under the old trailer floor where we cut the hole. I need my arrowheads, stones, and marbles. Jim Crabb lives there now but he'll let you in. The key's under the doormat if he's gone."
Now he stood and stretched with the awkward muscularity of one who burns up his rage by pumping iron in the prison weight room. He affected, she thought, the wry smile of the doomed, but maybe that's how he felt, doomed, but having done what he set out to do. Her voice became thin, plaintive.
"I pray no one hurts you in here." She broke down again at the thought of how her life had twisted his own.
"They don't fuck with a crazy who shot three men. I love you, Julip."
"I love you, Bobby."
"I'll tell Dad I saw you."
He waved before she could respond, turning and walking out the door where a guard waited. In her throat a sob married a scream and became nothing.
* * *
At the motel the maid had refused to pick up the condom that the lawyer had dropped, unused, beside the night table. Julip reflected that men put on condoms as if they were dressing a simple-minded doll, and often, as in this case, a doll with a broken neck. The maid had also turned off the air conditioner, and Julip felt she could smell distinctly the odor of everyone who had stayed there in order to visit husbands, brothers, fathers, and friends at Raiford: the sharp, cheesy odors of grief and loneliness. She shook some cologne into the air conditioner, turning it to HI COOL, took off her clothes, and showered without drying off, the better to imitate a breeze off a northern lake. She disliked Florida or anywhere south in early summer, except for Key West when she visited the Boys and there always was a sea breeze. Inland the wet heat was frightening as if walking through invisible blood, the air the same temperature as your body. She took out her dog album and diary from the bottom of her suitcase, both singularly intimate, leafing through the photos as sacramental reminders that glued the world together: every dog she had owned and also those she had trained for others, like her father had done. She had given the animals a sense of purpose and they had loved her for it — Labradors, springers, setters, Brittanies, English pointers. Under "Florida, Bide-A-Rest Motel, May 23rd," she wrote:
Saw a pug in a car. What for? Don't know. Irish setter near road, clipped short for heat, dancing around dead toad. Not too smart. I stopped. Eager to show me toad. I said "go home." He did. Bench-bred nitwit. Lawyer, so-called friend of Dad's. Paid with sex as he is an expensive lawyer to help Bobby who is nuts period. Got to get the wounded Boys to accept change of plea. All three to forget the holes shot in them. We had dinner of good seafood. I ate like a Lab as lawyer drank five manhattans and bottle of wine. About fifty I guess. Normal fee three thousand to start. Would settle for "friendliness," or so he said, if in fact he does anything for Bobby who has never been the same person for even one day. My Emily Dickinson is out in the car dammit. Call Frank to see if Rose is in heat. Ship her to J.D. in N.D. Dragged recently hit raccoon off road into weeds so he would not keep getting run over. Lawyer cried then left.
* * *
By the time she started the car she was frankly pissed at Bobby. She stepped outside to let the air conditioner kick in, wondering just how he had come up with the word "defiled," whether it was from TV or perhaps something he had read. One year younger than her own twenty-one, Bobby had always owned a relentless gift for self-drama. Perhaps, like Dad, he simply had too many emotions. Dad would have a single drink, admittedly a big one, and tears would well up, leaving others present to wonder if the weeping that day was due to sadness, anger, incomprehension, or nothing in particular.
She decided the car was cool enough now so that her ass wouldn't stick to the seat. The new Subaru station wagon with dog screen had been a winter gift from one of the three wounded, Charles. It had been dealer-delivered on a blustery day in Ashland, Wisconsin, the air thick with snow carried by what was known locally as an Alberta clipper. There was a red ribbon on the steering wheel and a note card reading, "To my darling, Julip. Con Amore, Charles." The dealer, who had known her parents, wondered what "con amore" meant. When she told him, he said, looking at the new car, "That's quite a bit of love." Now she was embarrassed as she backed out of the parking space, glancing over at a coal-black woman she had seen earlier at the prison trying to start an old Dodge. Julip called out, "Can I help?" But then the Dodge turned over and the woman smiled and waved. This fragile bit of contact lifted Julip's spirits and she set off for Moncrief, north of Tallahassee up on the Georgia-Florida border, perhaps two hours distant, to retrieve Bobby's bait box, hidden under the linoleum where they had tried to conceal the wild piglet.
* * *
Jim Crabb stood in the hot yard in the de rigueur white-trash camo outfit, leaning against a blue pickup as battered as the trailer that had once been her home. Julip had called from the gas station back down the country road, and she supposed that this was the pose, of all others, he had decided on: careless, bored, needing the support of the truck as if his legs could not quite bear up under the weight of his balls. Jim Crabb was the definitive ex-Marine, a category as pronounced, specific, and hallowed as the ex-Princetonian. She had known him since childhood, and if anything the sense of general dreariness he filled her with had increased. He was, simply enough, the lamest dickhead she had ever met. As she drew closer she noted that he had doused himself with a cologne reminiscent of car deodorant, which warned her of a pass.
"Nice-looking dog." She drew near the stout pen that contained a Catahoula wild-hog dog, an animal so baleful and maudlin in its pen as to appear comic, though less so when it was tearing apart a wild pig.
"You might say that." Crabb drew closer during his favorite expression. Along with the deodorant he smelled, as always, of peanuts, which he was wont to describe as "nature's perfect food."
Crabb was known widely around the countryside as a man who had wrecked three pickups while shelling peanuts and drinking beer at top speed. He was also a deviate with freak hots for little girls. Her own memory of his sickness was more funny than traumatic. They had been about eleven, she and her cousin Marcia from Virginia, and it must have been right after church on Sunday because they were in dresses. At the far end of the plantation's quail pen Julip had a setter pup on a tether and the pup was pointing the penned quail. Jim Crabb, who was about sixteen at the time and was cleaning the pen, called the girls "little bitches," at which point Marcia mooned him.
As Julip only realized that moment in the trailer yard, Marcia's moon waved a red flag. Jim Crabb came out of the pen and walked them over behind a huge live oak where he offered Marcia a dollar to do it again, only close up this time. Marcia didn't need a dollar, her parents were well off, but she reenacted her moon, only jumping away when Crabb touched her bare bottom. Julip was teaching the pup to sit and heel and hadn't been particularly interested until Crabb offered to show them how a man "did it to himself." She wasn't sure she would have laughed at the sight if Marcia hadn't set the pace. Poor Jim Crabb lay on the ground with his eyes squeezed shut, pulling at himself mightily. Marcia told him to hurry up because they didn't have all day. The puppy licked his face which broke his concentration and his reddish noodle began to shrink. Marcia taunted him about his disappearing "dickybird" and he offered another dollar for Marcia to stand over his head. Julip noted this brought him to instant life again, but as he was shooting his stuff all over the place Bobby showed up, took in the scene, then ran off yelling for Dad, which turned it into a real bad day for Jim Crabb. Dad came running from the house and out past the trailer, where he cornered Crabb, slapped him silly, and wedged him into a Sky Kennel, of all places, for a trip to the sheriff.
Only now in the trailer yard did the whole matter sadden her a bit, and that was because of her mother's reaction, which was both sententious and oblique. "Love is a beautiful thing for when you are eighteen the body is sacred I pray this doesn't scar you this insane boy should be locked up forever," she droned on, an open recipe book before her, glancing at the book during her blather. Julip and Marcia giggled and Julip got slapped. Now as she headed for the trailer steps she wished she was religious so she could ask God who was more pathetic, her mother or Jim Crabb.
Crabb, in fact, was breathing down her neck as she opened the door. "Back off, you fucking pervert," she yelled, and he tripped off the stoop in surprise.
"I'm changed," he said, picking himself up quickly. "I'm a normal human. I got a diploma from Social Services in Tallahassee."
She listened to him with moderate interest in the kitchen of the trailer as she drank a glass of funky water. His diplomas were from courses in "anger management" and a two-year-long effort by psychologists to reeducate his sexual tastes. She continued to listen as she entered the trailer bedroom to lift up the linoleum and find Bobby's bait box. But when she opened the door the wind left her and she drew her breath in sharply. The entire room, both walls and ceiling, had been papered solid with photos from Hustler and other sex magazines: photos of gynecological intensity, countless ladies you could see well inside of, an abattoir assembly line of organs.
"Not much mystery hereabouts." She laughed, gathering herself and stooping to the sheet of florid linoleum that covered the opening to the secret compartment she and Bobby had devised to hide the wild piglet.
"What do you mean by 'mystery'?" Crabb asked, kneeling to watch her fetch the bait box out of the hole. The piglet's food and water dishes were still there from over seven years ago. Her eyes began to mist at the memory that this precious animal had been taken from her because her mother thought pigs smelled like tooth decay.
* * *
Anticipating the Tallahassee rush-hour traffic, Julip decided against driving the two hours back to Raiford and opted for the idea of getting up early to make the morning visiting hours. She pulled off near a boat launch on Lake Jackson and took her diary and volume of Emily Dickinson out on the dock, slipping off her sandals to trail her feet in the water, staring at the bass minnows darting through the peppergrass.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Julip"
Copyright © 1994 Jim Harrison.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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Table of Contents
The Seven-Ounce Man,
The Beige Dolorosa,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Three stories by Harrison covering the familiar, Brown Dog in The Seven-Ounce Man, and the new in Julip. Though the meanderings of Brown Dog are always enjoyable to read it was Beige Dolorosa, the last of the stories, that made the collection. Another just past middle-age literati of some sort tries to put his life together as he deals with some extreme characters. He has written this before but Harrison's sense of place, style, and observations always makes it interesting for me. I thought the story was a dud after 10 or so pages but it worked well. All these people must be Harrison.
Unbelievably fantastic writing, so evocative and rich, and yet earthy, simple. I must scoop up all of his books, although I am not sure about the poetry, I've never been a big reader of poetry. It's a book of 3 novellas, that are very different from one another, but the strength of the writing is so powerful, so obiviously Harrison. I can see now why he's so admired, and look forward to more of his writing.