Home > 1970, 20th Century, American Literature, Harrison Jim, Montana & Wyoming, Novel > A Good Day to Die by Jim Harrison – drugs, alcohol, ecotage and road trip

A Good Day to Die by Jim Harrison – drugs, alcohol, ecotage and road trip

February 7, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

A Good Day to Die by Jim Harrison (1973) French title: Un bon jour pour mourir. Translated by Sara Oudin

A Good Day to Die by Jim Harrison opens in Key West, Florida. Two young men meet in a bar. One, the narrator, is in Florida on a fishing trip and the other ended up there after a tour of duty in Vietnam. During a drunken night, they conceive the crazy plan of driving west, buying a case of dynamite and destroy a dam on the Grand Canyon that they heard was under construction

On their way, they go through Tim’s hometown to fetch Sylvia, Tim’s ex-girlfriend. Sylvia goes along because she still hopes that Tim will change his mind and come back to the white-picket-fence dream she still entertains.

Follows a memorable road trip of three young people who don’t want to conform anymore. The narrator, an aspiring poet, was thrown out of his wife and child’s lives because she felt he was impossible to live with. He was probably not ready to bend to the routine life that children need. The booze he consumes didn’t help his case but he has an incredible capacity to wax poetry over trout fishing in mountain streams.

Tim is damaged by the Vietnam War and bonds with the narrator over fishing. They are both passionate fishermen. Tim has nightmares from the war and struggles to readjust to civilian life.

Sylvia finds herself in the middle of them, still in love with Tim but the narrator is soon growing on her. She tries to keep Tim out of trouble and ends up disappointed.

There is no way this is going to end well. 

When I started to read A Good Day to Die by Jim Harrison, I had a sense of déjà vu. A road trip with three damaged young people driving west, with music, drugs and booze, passionate with fishing in the wilderness and on a mission to dynamite a dam on the Grand Canyon. It sounded like a merger between On the Road by Kerouac (1957), Trout Fishing in America by Brautigan (1967), The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey (1975) and Not Fade Away by Jim Dodge (1987). I’m almost sorry Abbey didn’t publish his book in 1977, it would have made a one-per-decade road trip book series.

Although the article about ecotage on Wikipedia states that the concept was popularized by Abbey’s book, Harrison wrote A Good Day to Die before The Monkey Wrench Gang, and according to the foreword by François Busnel in my copy, Harrison’s book influenced Abbey. 

I suppose that Jim Harrison put a bit of himself in A Good Day to Die. I know from McGuane’s Outside Chance that he and Harrison went fishing in Key West. And the narrator comes from Michigan and his knowledge of fishing in Montana and Wyoming comes from Harrison’s experience too. 

I know A Good Day to Die is an excellent book but since I read the ecotage/drunken poets/fishing gurus road trips out of order, the feeling of déjà vu tainted my reading. To be honest, I’m not a huge Kerouac fan. I loved Abbey for his playfulness. His characters are quirky, borderline crazy and he has a wicked sense of humor. As much as I love Jim Harrison, I didn’t enjoy A Good Day to Die as much as The Monkey Wrench Gang.

Still, the message is there. We’re in 1973 and Harrison worries about huge construction projects, wild deforestation and sprawling towns that disfigure the landscape, destroy ecosystems and ruin the environment. Maybe we should have paid more attention to these counterculture books at the time.

  1. February 7, 2021 at 10:59 am

    I think the problem is that we counter culturists paid too little attention to what we were saying and were soon wrapped up in middle class jobs and families like everyone that we had scorned. Sounds like an excellent book.

    Do you mind if say that soldiers do tours of duty overseas.


    • February 7, 2021 at 11:37 am

      I think that all the booze and drugs went in the way of the message under the counterculture. To simplify things, it’s easier to discard counter culturists’ idea by saying they are not serious coming from people doing drugs and getting drunk.
      It frightened the bourgeois and the real warning about destroying nature wasn’t audible.

      Always happy to better my understanding of the English language. so, feel free to make any remark you want to.


  2. February 7, 2021 at 12:01 pm

    I think we had a real sense of hope in the 1970s because there was a world wide conservation movement and although we had to work for it (getting involved in protests etc) we were able to achieve some successes. Not only that, but also (at least among the ordinary people in my circles) there was genuine effort to consume less and buy wisely and be less wasteful. Everyone I knew cared about the environment, but it was also easier: the clothes and consumer goods we bought were made to last. There was no such thing as a $5 T-shirt made by slave labour in the Philippines. There was no such thing as a mobile phone that was thrown away and replaced every year or so.
    That’s just not true any more.


    • February 7, 2021 at 6:00 pm

      I’m too young to remember the 1970s but from what my parents tell me, for them it was all about starting in life, saving to buy things and going on holiday. I don’t think the environment was a big concern.

      The turning of the 1970s is where capitalism went wild. I hope there’s a special circle in hell for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, for being such enablers of today’s capitalism.


      • February 8, 2021 at 12:24 am

        Well, that’s true, it was (for me and my friends) about starting in life, and yes, we did save for things whereas now everyone buys everything on credit, but it was also about choices. When we bought things, we refused to take unnecessary packaging. We never bought fruit and vegetables in plastic packaging. We just didn’t buy wasteful products. We hounded our local councils about recycling. We have gone backwards in these behaviours and attitudes.


        • February 8, 2021 at 12:43 am

          Must have been a Melbourne thing.
          Here, concerns about recycling didn’t start until the end of the 1980s. Same for plastic packaging.
          But when I was a kid in the 1970s, there was no fast-foods, no one was eating take away food or ready made meals. People cooked and ate at home.
          I don’t remember seeing fruits or vegetables in packaging or pre-cut.


          • February 13, 2021 at 12:15 pm

            Yes, in many ways we were unconsciously more sensitive to conservation issues than people are now.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. February 7, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    It sounds like more fun than Kerouac though. Especially to someone who hasn’t read quite so many of these type of books.


    • February 7, 2021 at 5:56 pm

      The best one of the lot is Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang. If you want to pick one, that’s the one I recommend.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. February 7, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    It’s really unfortunate that the more important environmental message got lost. Ironically, these days some of the dams are being taken out because of the damage they cause.

    I’ve never really understood the fawning over Kerouac, he strikes me as a self-indulgent, boys behaving badly type. I’m quite tired of them.


    • February 7, 2021 at 7:02 pm

      I didn’t know they were taking out dams.

      Like you, I don’t understand the fuss about Kerouac but I guess it’s hard to imagine what his book represented, back in the 1950s.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. February 7, 2021 at 6:48 pm

    How interesting. The counter culture had much to tell us, but petered out like every movement did. People got old and tired out, their views weren’t listened to and there were too many different views – it’s not as if there was a homogenous voice. But if you look back at the warnings over the 20th century it’s a bit scary how nobody paid attention or learned…


    • February 7, 2021 at 7:06 pm

      The 1968ers settled down, became parents and like Bill said earlier, started a middle-class life or trusted position of power.

      And yes, we could have paid attention to their warnings but they went against the big bucks.

      Liked by 1 person

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