I recently made a good find in the Book End: The English Major by Jim Harrison. Although the title makes it sound like an epic love story set in colonial Africa, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s a true American travel story.
Harrison fans who love his character Brown Dog will identify with the protagonist, Cliff, who has same down-to-earth way of looking at things, a love of the Michigan outdoors and a cluelessness about women (that somehow seems to work for both of them). Unlike BD, he was once a lit teacher with a love of books. But he became disenchanted with literature and eschewed the intellectual life for a pastoral one when his wife inherited a cherry farm in northern Michigan.
The story, which opens after his marriage falls apart, takes the form of a kind of travel diary. Mourning the loss of his dog and his cherry farm (his wife sells it to a developer), he sets out for a cathartic road trip to visit every state. Along the way, he hooks up with an former female student, reconnects with his son and has some raucous adventures with his fishing buddy. As he winds his way across the west, he is forced to reexamine his life and marriage with honesty. Although Cliff doesn’t make it to every state, with some help from his ex-wife, he figures out how to put together a new life.