In a 2016 New York Times Book Review interview Jim Harrison responded to a question about his favorite fictional heroes and villains with, “My original favorite fictional hero was Heathcliff in Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights.’” In Heathcliff Bronte creates one of literature’s quintessential Byronic heroes, unique among Byronic heroes in that his mystery derives from his locale: he embodies the tumultuous remoteness of Wuthering Heights. Thinking over the corpus of Jim Harrison stories, especially those stories set in wintery brooding Northern Michigan, place becomes persona in characters actively trying to lose themselves in their surroundings pursuing what Anthony Doerr characterized as “unencumbered-ness.” This unencumbered-ness invokes an aura of Heathcliff. This essay will argue that Jim Harrison’s Sundog clearly has a relationship to Wuthering Heights, and while it is by no means a retelling of that story, a reading of Sundog through Wuthering Heights enables an exploration of locale and the charismatic hero.
Jumping out from the two books is the parallel in the narrative scaffolding. In Wuthering Heights Mr. Lockwood is a first person narrator, who retells Nelly Dean’s account of Wuthering Heights, that itself relays accounts of events told in detail by the story’s characters. In Sundog Jim Harrison is a first person narrator, there are interviews with Robert Corvus Strang, and the “verbatim” transcriptions of tapes the Narrator makes as he comes to grips with how Strang’s story intersects with the transition he needs to make to keep his life from coming unglued. The different narrative modes and moods create a push and pull tension within both novels–moods that for Harrison create a structure for the Narrator to internalize Strang’s story, to let the story under his skin, and for Bronte a space for the competing scenes of passion and/or ferocity.