Book Review: Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison

Posted July 28, 2014 by @Angelized_1st in 2014 HF Challenge, Books, Entertainment, Historical Fiction Reading Challenges, Reading Challenges / 0 Comments

Book Review: Legends of the Fall by Jim HarrisonLegends of the Fall by Jim Harrison
Published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. on December 20th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 999
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
ISBN: 9780802192219
Buy on: AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooks

“[Legends of the Fall] may well be the best set of novellas to appear in this country during the last quarter century.” —Robert Houston, New York Times Book Review

New York Times bestselling author Jim Harrison is one of America’s most beloved and critically acclaimed writers. Now available in eBook for the first time, the classic Legends of the Fall is Harrison at his most memorable: a striking collection of novellas written with exceptional brilliance and a ferocious love of life.

The title novella, “Legends of the Fall”—which was made into the film of the same name—is an epic, moving tale of three brothers fighting for justice in a world gone mad. Moving from the raw landscape of early twentieth-century Montana to the blood-drenched European battlefields of World War I and back again to Montana, Harrison’s powerful story explores the theme of revenge and the actions to which people resort when their lives or goals are threatened, painting an unforgettable portrait of the twentieth-century man.

Also including the novellas “Revenge” and “The Man Who Gave Up His Name,” Legends of the Fall confirms Jim Harrison’s reputation as one of the finest American voices of his generation.

A long-time fan of the film, Legends of the Fall, I decided to pick up the novel from which the movie was adapted to see if I would love it as much as the Brad Pitt film. I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean the short story wasn’t worth reading. Part of the reason I didn’t like it was due to the small changes, but also due to my ignorance of the fact that this was in fact a trilogy of short novels as stated above. Sadly, I was halfway through the first short story before I realized how familiar it was to a movie I had seen long ago. That’s because the first story, “Revenge,” was also adapted into a film starring Kevin Costner and Madeleine Stow (LOL!) back in 1990. These are the things that happen when you read on a Kindle instead of an actual book!


Like the film, the story revolves around an ex-Naval officer, Cochran, who becomes a tennis pro and some-time pilot. Cochran becomes friends with a successful, shady Mexican businessman named Baldassero “Tiburon” Mendez, and has the misfortune of falling in love with Tibey’s wife, Miryea. The story opens up with a Mexican peasant and his daughter discovering a man nearly beaten to death and discarded by the side of the road. After being taken to a nearby clinic, Cochran is treated and it is through his memories we learn about his dangerous liaison with a married woman. After Cochran returns to good health, he realizes he must seek revenge for what was done to him and discover the whereabouts of his beloved Miryea. The trouble is: Tibey is a vindictive man who is hunting Cochran down to prove to his business rivals that he hasn’t gone soft, and betrayals won’t be tolerated.

Jim Harrison certainly captures the lengths men will go to get revenge against those who’ve wronged them. Both Cochran and Tibey’s desire for revenge seemed reasonable in keeping with their characters. Cochran was a man who needed to save Miryea after she receives the brunt of her husband’s ire. Through his actions the reader gets a tragic sense of what their lives could have been like had Cochran and Miryea been allowed to live a normal existence with one another. Tibey, however, is the epitome of a Mexican gangster full of machismo. He’s vindictive, vengeful, and powerful, but he’s also a man who wishes he could have his old friend back and full of regret for the choices he’s made. Out of all three stories, Revenge was the most engrossing.

“The Man Who Gave Up His Name”

This story is about an everyday man named Nordstrom who does what most men do. He grows up, gets a job, gets married, and starts a family. After becoming a successful businessman, Nordstrom, now divorced, goes through a mid-life crisis and decides to quit his lucrative job at Standard Oil to become a cook, and later decides to give up all his belongings. The eve before he’s supposed to leave on his great nomadic adventure, Nordstrom runs afoul of some New York thugs and decides to get revenge against them for thinking he was an easy mark.

“The Man Who Gave Up His Name” is a portrait of a man who’s lived a safe existence all of his life. He’s always done everything everyone has expected him to do, and nearing the end of his life decides to do something just for himself. His family and friends think he’s lost it, but Nordstrom has watched his wife leave him for the fast Hollywood crowd she runs in, and his daughter for the cocky young man she’s decided to marry. Touching, and kind of bizarre, this short story seems a bit out-of-place following a story like “Revenge,” but when sandwiched between that and “Legends of the Fall,” its inclusion begins to make a lot of sense.

“Legends of the Fall”

Like the film of the same name, “Legends of the Fall,” takes place in 1914 during World War I. Three brothers (Alfred, Tristan, and Samuel) ride off to enlist in Canada since the U.S. hadn’t entered the war, yet. The story follows the three brothers as their lives take them in different paths. Samuel goes to Germany and doesn’t make it home from the war in one piece. Tristan’s guilt over not being there to protect Samuel makes his spirit restless and destructive. Alfred uses his war experience to become a Congressman and live the “good life” in Montanan society. While the film would have you believe this story is the “epic tale of three brothers and their father living in the remote wilderness of 1900s USA and how their lives are affected by nature, history, war, and love,”the story is really about Tristan and how those around him tried to understand his roaming, adventurous spirit. A love story, not just between Tristan and Susanna, but between Tristan and all those he loved.

“Legends of the Fall” was a rich story that could have been a full-fledged book. In fact, it deserved to be. Having seen the film first, the parts I loved most in the film where barely touched on in the story. Not only that, but the emphasis in the story appeared to be more about Tristan’s adventures abroad and as a bootlegger, than the romances he had in the film. While the romances are evident in the story, you never get the same emotional pull they give you in the film. Unlike many film adaptations, the film based on this story is pretty true. However, my recommendation would be skip the story in watch the film. At least you get a naked Brad Pitt. Just saying…

“I thought Tristan would never live to be an old man. I was wrong about that. I was wrong about many things. It was those who loved him most who died young. He was a rock they broke themselves against however much he tried to protect them.”

This is my ninth completed review for the 2014 Historical Fiction Challenge

Rating Report
Overall: 4

About Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison was born in Grayling, Michigan, to Winfield Sprague Harrison, a county agricultural agent, and Norma Olivia (Wahlgren) Harrison, both avid readers. He married Linda King in 1959 with whom he has two daughters.

His awards include National Academy of Arts grants (1967, 68, 69), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1969-70), the Spirit of the West Award from the Mountain & Plains Booksellers Association, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2007).

Much of Harrison’s writing depicts sparsely populated regions of North America with many stories set in places such as Nebraska’s Sand Hills, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Montana’s mountains, and along the Arizona-Mexico border.

He currently divides his residence, living in both Patagonia, Arizona and Livingston, Montana.


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