what can brown do for you?

If beer is the unsung hero of Beowulf and wine the underlying reality of Tortilla Flat, there’s good reason to think every work of art contains a secret. Brown Dog, a novella by Jim Harrison, is no different. Except its gnostic teaching is inspired not by fermented malted barley or grapes but by the glories of female geometry, largely the backside, the fanny, preferably large and solid, bare bottoms “that show plain as day,” and butts “sticking up in the air like cameras taking pictures,” but also the crotch, with “shorts pulled up in a pretty way,” and the vagina, the great cavern of life, at once “source” and curse, “a beautiful mouth of hell.” As admirers of Harrison’s prose know, his peculiar genius is the droll, male first-person I’m-having-a-mid-life-crisis voice. It’s a unique brew of the comic and erotic. Sometimes it’s just flat-out comic, like this humorous bit which is reminiscent of Kramer in “Seinfeld” who says of the stifling heat in the sauna that “It’s as hot as a sauna in here” — “This nightie is purple and smooth as satin because that’s what it’s made of.” Other times the humor is comic and erotic all at once. “In a cold climate a larger woman is favored by all except transplants from down below (the southern peninsula of Michigan) who bring girlfriends up here who look like they jumped right off the pages of a magazine. Nobody pays them much attention unless the situation is desperate. Why take a little girl if you can get a big one? It’s as simple as that.” I’m warming up to the idea of saying something more about Brown Dog. But want to get clear on a few things first. As a teaser, let me just say that Brown Dog, B.D. for short, the character who bears the name of the story, has a profound and entertaining relationship with a dead body. Don’t think Lester Ballard in Child of God. No, don’t think that, for although B.D. may be a petty criminal, a homicidal necrophiliac he is not. I swear.

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