A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison

Review published on May 15, 2018.

A Really Big Lunch, by the late Jim Harrison, is a superb book as far as I am concerned. I did not know much about the guy at first, but I soon learnt enough to search him out and find more. He was classed as a novelist, a poet, an essayist, a gourmand, and a larger than life character who enjoyed solitude and peace.

Amongst some of the 39 books he has had published, we have The Legends Of The Fall, some of you may recall the film adaptation, but there is so much more to the man. I found him an almost brusque chap simply by the way he writes. He certainly did not suffer fools gladly throughout his life. I consider him to be from the same mould as Ernest Hemingway perhaps. He enjoyed hunting, fishing and all manner of manly pursuits, but he tells us that he always ate what he caught.

As the title suggests, the book centres mainly about food, in particular a couple of massive meals that took several hours to consume. A few friends gather to partake of this extravagant repast, one occasion had some thirty-seven courses, plus thirteen different wines. The various ‘exceptional’ ingredients were based on extremely old recipes, collected by experts in the field, and cooked by eminent chefs for the occasion. Harrison travelled miles to eat heartily, jetting back and forth over different countries to sample their individual delights, Bear, snake, duck, elk, even dog on one journey. He is a splendid example of the gourmand extreme. I confess to be at a bit of a loss as far as the food details are concerned, the menu means precious little to me, plus his beloved wines that are consumed with amazing gusto. He favours a full-bodied red every time, but in later life, he also began a love affair with white wines as well.

What I found particularly delightful about Jim Harrison was his way with words. I found myself consulting a dictionary on several occasions, but his use of language is exceptional throughout. He is one of those people that make you think “I wish I had said that.” The wildlife that seem to abound around his haunts are noted and enjoyed by him, I loved the way he correctly named rattlesnakes as crotolids, the genus name for them, or maybe the word “Deliquesce” for explaining why certain Native Indians avoided an imagined drowned wagon train.

I laughed out loud several times with this book; even though his own human frailties cause mirth to the reader, he suffered for his art. Diabetes, blinded in his left eye, kidney stones and a spinal malaise that he loathed, mainly because he could not pronounce the name “spondylolisthesis”. This is how the book advances, quirky, irreverent, self-absorbed, chauvinistic, with a devil-may-care attitude throughout. Extremely well written by a clever, well-read and informed man who loved life even though he questioned his role in it? I heartily recommend this book because it is so different, part biographical, anecdotal, humorous and lively. An excellent book throughout.

A Really Big Lunch by Jim Harrison
Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press 9781611856231 hbk Dec 2017

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