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Another time, another place

Farther Along A Novel Donald Harington Toby Press: 226 pp., $24.95

June 29, 2008|James Sallis | James Sallis is the author, most recently, of "Salt River."

"Farther Along" begins in the first person, ends in multiple points of view and, for its long middle passage, surges into the second person. And not just plain old garden-variety second person, but second person voiced by that spirit, who is relating, to a woman who has just lost her husband, her own story while adding its thoughts: "Half-waking, you rolled and dropped a gentle hand down on the other pillow, and woke fully to find him not there. You listened for the sound of the axe, his chopping, but heard only the piping of the pre-dawn birds and the quickening of your heart."

Harington's narratives are full of such lurches, for us and for his characters. He never allows us to become too comfortable. Nor does he allow us to forget that it's all about stories: those we inherit, those told to us, those we tell ourselves to be able to go on. A writer with every bit of the playfulness and intelligence of Nabokov, he is also one whose heart and expansive humanity rivals that of Chekhov -- a writer, that is, who is dearly in love with his people, his place, his world, his work.

I hesitate, in casting about for central themes, to adopt the simplistics that Harington himself abjures, but just as it seems to me that American literature finds its overarching theme in the push-pull of individual and society, frontier and city, so it seems that Harington again and again writes about a man or woman who sails out from civilization aiming for solitude and unwittingly discovers community.

I do not hesitate, though, to call "Farther Along" a great novel. It joins "The Cherry Pit," "Lightning Bug," "The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks," "With" and the others on my shelf: more stories than you can ever absorb, more of the world than any of us will ever know. But it is a good world that has in it a publisher like the Toby Press. And it is a far better world for having Donald Harington in it.

Sit with him a spell -- a long spell. And listen. *

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