“The longtime chronicler of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula . . . gives eloquent expression to death and the grieving process.” —Booklist
Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “a master . . . who makes the ordinary extraordinary, the unnamable unforgettable,” beloved author Jim Harrison returns with a masterpiece—a tender, profound, and magnificent novel about life, death, and finding redemption in unlikely places. Donald is a middle-aged Chippewa-Finnish man slowly dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His condition deteriorating, he realizes no one will be able to pass on to his children their family history once he is gone. He begins dictating to his wife, Cynthia, stories he has never shared with anyone as around him, his family struggles to lay him to rest with the same dignity with which he has lived. Over the course of the year following Donald’s death, his daughter begins studying Chippewa ideas of death for clues about her father’s religion, while Cynthia, bereft of the family she created to escape the malevolent influence of her own father, finds that redeeming the past is not a lost cause. Returning to Earth is a deeply moving book about origins and endings, making sense of loss, and living with honor for the dead. It is among the finest novels of Harrison’s long, storied career, and confirms his standing as one of the most important American writers.
“A deeply felt meditation on life and death, nature and God, this is one of Harrison’s finest works.” —Library Journal
Dying at 45 of Lou Gehrig's disease, Donald, who is Chippewa- Finnish, dictates his family story to his wife, Cynthia, who records this headlong tale for their two grown children (and also interjects). Donald's half-Chippewa great-grandfather, Clarence, set out from Minnesota in 1871 at age 13 for the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In Donald's compellingly digressive telling, Clarence worked the farms and mines of the northern Midwest, and arrived in the Marquette, Mich., area 35 years later. As Donald weaves the tale of his settled life of marriage and fatherhood with that of his restless ancestors, he reveals his deep connection to an earlier, wilder time and to a kind of people who are "gone forever." The next three parts of the novel, each narrated by a different member of Donald's family, relate the story of Donald's death and its effects. While his daughter, Clare, seeks solace in Donald's Anishnabeg religion, Cynthia and her brother, David, use Donald's death to come to terms with the legacy of their alcoholic father. The rambling narrative veers away from the epic sweep of Harrison's Legends of the Fall, and Donald's reticence about the role religion plays in his life dilutes its impact on the story. But Harrison's characters speak with a gripping frankness and intimacy about their own shortcomings, and delve into their grief with keen sympathy.