22 May 2015

Great Leader, by Jim Harrison


NY Times review

This is the first book I've read by Jim Harrison. His writing is unusual. There's a kind of economy to it that can be just a little confusing. He doesn't waste words on transition; a character will move from one place to another, one action to another, one time to another, with little or no explanation. Several times I had to stop and go back to see what I had missed, and usually discovered that I had missed nothing--I was simply being challenged to use my head to figure out what's going on. In general, I like this in an author; I don't enjoy reading unnecessary reams of exposition, but maybe Mr. Harrison overdoes it a little.

The story is pretty good. I like the Upper Peninsula Michigan setting, the cold and bleak images of Lake Superior, its role as a sort of symbol for evil in the book. Sunderson is a State Police detective who retires soon after the story begins, but who continues to hunt down his last suspect, a religious cult leader that he sometimes calls the Great Leader. The Great Leader's main transgression is statutory rape: he likes to have intercourse with underage girls who join the cult. He also welcomes adult women as long as they have lots of money to donate.

Sunderson is a complicated person, probably an alcoholic, although his personal brand of alcoholism doesn't exactly ring true, and I have a little expertise in this area. He is extremely sexually active for a 65-year-old man, and doesn't seem to have much in the way of moral compunction. Add to this his habit of spying on his 16-year-old female neighbor Mona, and it's a little difficult to see exactly from where his intense moral outrage against the Great Leader comes. Perhaps it's one of those instances where we hate others the most when they remind us of ourselves.

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