Synopses & Reviews
The Road Home lies in the shadows of Manifest Destiny and Wounded Knee; it is etched into the landscape of an old man's memory and into the stubborn dreams of a young man's heart. In one of Jim Harrison’s greatest works, five members of the Northridge family narrate the tangled epic of their history on the expanses of the Nebraska plains. They strive to understand their fates, to reconcile with demons of the past, to live in accordance with the land and to die with grace. As the family grapples with the mysterious forces that both pull them apart and draw them inextricably back together, they must come to term with life's greatest and hardest lessons: the deception of passion, the pain of love, the vitality of art, and the supplication to nature's generosity and fury.
About the Author
Jim Harrison is the author of three volumes of novellas, Legends of the Fall, The Woman Lit by Fireflies, and Julip; seven novels, Wolf, A Good Day to Die, Farmer, Warlock, Sundog, Dalva, and The Road Home; seven collections of poetry; and a collection of nonfiction, Just Before Dark. He has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in northern Michigan and Arizona.
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
1. How is the portrait John Northridge II paints of himself in his "memoir" different from the picture we get through other characters? Do you think this was intentional on his part?
2. Who is the main character of this story? Whose narrative -- John Northridge II's, Nelse's, Naomi's, Paul's, or Dalva's -- did you most enjoy and why? Out of the characters we don't hear from directly -- including Duane, Neena, Adelle, and John Northridge III -- who would you most like to have heard from and why?
3. Much of the book takes place during the mid to late 1980s. Does this feel like a contemporary novel to you?
4. The characterization of Dalva as a young girl is particularly striking. How did your knowledge of her childhood personality influence your reading of her own section of the book? Did she seem like the same person to you?
5. Discuss the nature vs. nurture dilemma as it relates to Nelse. Is he too like his blood relatives for it to be credible? How is he different from them and what did his adoptive parents have to do with it?
6. Both John Northridge II and Nelse see themselves (and/or are seen by others) as men out of time. What makes them so? What else do these two characters have in common despite their never having met?
7. Does Dalva behave as you would have expected when she meets Nelse? If not, how are your judgments related to the commonly accepted view of motherhood? Does she behave more like the stereotypical "father" would?
8. Dalva explains some of her own behavior by saying she merely takes liberties the alpha male has taken all along. Are there any ways in which she is decidedly (stereotypically?) feminine?
9. Almost all of the characters in The Road Home have strong relationships with dogs. Do you think Jim Harrison was making a point?
10. When Paul says "My family never quite joined the world," Naomi thinks to herself that they joined it, but "strictly on their terms." What, if anything, do you know about the Northridge family that backs up Naomi's view?
11. What did Nelse's nomadic lifestyle say about his interior world? Why does he settle down when he does? How are the other characters also traveling toward "home"?
12. Discuss the symbolism of Dalva's cancer being ovarian.
13. When she was 15-years-old and pregnant Dalva told her grandfather, "I'm not going to kill myself because it would disappoint everyone." Is that still true at the end of the book? Were you disappointed? Does The Road Home glorify suicide?
AN INTERVIEW WITH JIM HARRISON
Q: Having written Dalva and The Road Home, which features Dalva again, you've made it clear that she's a character you're very fond of. What is it about her? What women in your life does she draw from most strongly?
A: I simply can't answer what there is about the character of Dalva that I'm fond of. The answer is in the entirety of Dalva and The Road Home. I was enchanted by this imaginary woman who first came to me in a series of dreams. A number of women in my life contributed to her but she is quite complete in herself.
Q: One of your author photos (used on the hardcover edition of The Road Home), pictures you with a dog. Why are relationships with dogs so important to your characters? And to you?
A: Dogs are fellow creatures. They are an integral part of the natural world, somewhat domesticated for perhaps a couple hundred of thousands of years or so the evidence says. As humans we are also quite decidedly animals. I like to investigate this relationship between species. I cannot imagine life without dogs or birds for that matter.
Q: The Road Home is the first full-length novel you've written since Dalva, ten years ago. Why such a long wait? Are other forms of writing more appealing to you than the novel?
A: Though The Road Home is the first full length novel I had written in 9 years, in the meantime I wrote 6 novellas, a couple of books of poems, not to speak of a dozen screenplays to make a living. A long novel requires a long subject, which doesn't often appear. It is a terrible mistake to try to make a novella a long novel. A typically venal publisher wanted me to vastly expand Legends of the Fall, which I refused to do. I like a great deal of specific density in a book. Most all novels strike me as frothy.
Q: The idea of bequeathing to descendants a travel fund, like John Northridge II does, is fascinating. Would you ever make such a specification in your own will? Is travel inherently good?
A: John Northridge II had traveled a great deal in his life and he had bequeathed the travel fund in order to get Naomi off the farm. We make ruts in our life so deep that the dirt closes over us. Travel is an excellent way for a desperately needed change in perspective. I can't say that travel is inherently good when it's simply done for novelty. Novelty when people are trying to skim the essence of a whole other country in a few days. That attitude repels the country we are visiting. I would certainly make that kind of specification in my will if I thought it necessary.
Q: Critics have wonderful things to say about you. For example, The Sunday Times (London) has said that "Jim Harrison is a writer with immortality in him." How do you keep such praise from going to your head? What do you consider to be your shortcomings as a writer?
A: I don't have any problem of keeping critical comments from going to my head. Much of my most extreme critical praise comes in France and I don't read French very well, so it's easy. There is no problem in that I've never paid much attention to reviews because by the time they appear I'm already working on something else. It's also very dangerous to base your self-worth as a writer on a media consensus because frequently the media isn't thinking about you at all which would then mean you don't exist. Thinking about your shortcomings as a writer should probably be avoided, as it would be quite paralyzing. The sad truth is that nearly every writer disappears by the time his generation expires no matter how lavishly he or she has been rewarded. As Gary Snyder once said, "we're all flowers for the void." I don't worry about that because I'm living the life I chose.