Writer Jim Harrison in Brown Dog has done the highly improbable: he has me cheering for a hard-drinking loose cannon who will “poke” any woman who’ll have him, and plenty will, who prefers cold weather and a frequent dose of isolation, who is known and unknown. So far I don’t know his real name, BD being the initials for his childhood nickname, arrived at because he dogged a girl he had a crush on. He’s a loner, yet highly visible for his outrageous opportunistic, illegal stunts, like trying to sell a corpse and stealing a refrigeration truck to transport it. The only physical description of note is that BD has hair that won’t behave any better than he does. He is not registered or recognized by any Native American tribe, although he “might” qualify, has no SSN, earns his living by hard labor, often dangerous, like diving in Lake Superior or cutting pulpwood alone. He doesn’t know much at all about his parents.
So why do I like this guy? For one thing, he’s not a whiner, hence his motto handed down from his grandfather: “Don’t Doggett”–don’t whine like a cousin who always complained. No, BD takes his lumps, which he generally creates for himself. He’s a strong worker, inventive, quick-witted, kind to kids and animals, apparently attractive to women, whom he definitely appreciates. He’s literate in a mostly illiterate world. He’s one of those elusive characters we call well rounded. He believes, “There ought to be more open spaces between events.” Ah, there’s a credo to live by. He is, for all his emotional neediness, not greedy or acquisitive in a bureaucratic, consumerist society. This is a book I don’t want to end. But there is, in a sense, no end. Fictional characters, unlike fleshy ones, stay with us. Whether we know their names or not, their lives become part of our own. BD is an Everyman who’s no one at all, but for me, he’s immortal and very real.