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The Great Leader Hardcover – 20 Oct 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press (20 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802119704
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 818,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"The Great Leader carbonates page after page after page. You might go so far as to compare it to Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. Or...Ted Williams, much the better hitter...[Or] Willie Mays. Mays was a magic act, but the kind that left you with the feeling that the miraculous stuff surprised him too. And that's where Harrison fits in, 30-odd books down the road--his own shelf in the library--and you can still feel the excitement every time he pulls something new out of his ear. Which pretty much happens on every page he writes." --Pete Dexter, The New York Times Book Review "The Harrison Legend...has only grown .... Harrison has outlasted those critics who initially wrote him off as a Hemingway-derived regionalist, and at times he has been as successful as a modern American writer can possibly be.... The Great Leader is hugely enjoyable--Harrison is probably incapable of writing a novel that is not enjoyable....The language...remains stunning.'" --Tom Bissell, Outside Magazine "Jim Harrison brings his established fascination with the rugged places of the natural world, the pleasures of good food and the persistence of sexual desire to this sometimes playful, often poignant story of one man's twilight quest for redemption.... Jim Harrison's latest leaves no doubt he still has much that's fresh, entertaining and thoughtful to say." --Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness The lyrical narrative cascades between dark comedy and revelation and, though it plows familiar soil, could be among Harrison's more rewarding in years." --Ted Roelofs, The Grand Rapids Press "Jim Harrison conjures The Great Leader of a bizarre hedonistic cult." --Vanity Fair "A mountain, a mess and an agonized moralist, Detective Sunderson makes this mock-epic one of the most memorable tales of contemporary master Harrison...Wounds-and-all portrait of a lion in winter, beleaguered but still battling." --Kirkus Reviews "[The] cat-and-mouse game between t

About the Author

Jim Harrison is the author of over thirty-one books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including "Legends of the Fall, The Road Home, The English Major, " and "The Farmer's Daughter." His writing has appeared in "The New Yorker, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Playboy," and "The New York Times." He has earned a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Spirit of the West Award from the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Adrian Rumble on 25 July 2012
Format: Hardcover
My review is actually based on the kindle version but I'm sure it will fit the printed one equally well.
In a sense this novel is a departure for Harrison as it could be described as a police thriller: the protagonist is a recently retired police officer whose retirement has come upon him as he is well into the search for an elusive charismatic but fraudulent leader of a religious cult.He nevertheless refuses to drop the case.
So in part the book is classic cop chasing baddy and as such throws up some noir gems worthy of Elmore Leonard: "When you've been a cop as long as I have even the songbirds are under suspicion"!
The chase, although never frenetic, is engaging and entertaining.
But the recently retired inspector is also trying to come to turns with retirement and we relive episodes of his past life and learn much about him with all his frailties and foibles.
As usual, Harrison writes with wry humour in measured, muscular prose which is always a delight to read. His paragraphs are strewn with the aphorisms and epigrammatic gems typical of his previous books.
The book also explores an unexpected paradox in that our protagonist is himself fighting one of the very temptations to which the Great Leader has criminally succumbed.
As much a novel of late-in-life self discovery as a detective thriller and I wholeheartedly recommend it to all Harrison fans and would suggest it as a good starting point if you have yet to discover the delights of this fine writer.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Biased again. Not his best–in my humble opinion–but if you like Jim Harrison you'll still enjoy it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 43 reviews
65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
Harrison as moving, memorable and lusty as ever 16 Sep 2011
By Rett01 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Something less than a rant, Jim Harrison's "The Great Leader" reads like the ruminations of a randy old geezer who hasn't lost his sexual itch and is struggling to come to terms with his fading prowess while lamenting lost love.

Fact is, though, unless you've already finished Harrison's previous two novels "The Farmers Daughter" (2009) and "The English Major" (2008), you've probably never experienced rumination that's this erudite and passionate on so many subjects and as satisfying as a good day fishing the riffles on a favorite trout stream.

Harrison is preoccupied with many of the same issues as essayist Edward Hoagland whose meditations in "Sex and the River Styx" cover much of the same ground - nature, sex and mortality. But Hoagland tends to lament while Harrison is most often exuberant and inclined to look for the hilarity often entwined with the absurdities of life.

Harrison's latest is another of his good reads, especially if you're a male who like his main character Simon Sunderson, suffers from advanced middle age (he's 65), has a gourmand's appetite and is still wrestling with a tickly libido. If that's you, "The Great Leader" is pitch-perfect in its rendering of your often perplexed state of mind and your woeful physical disintegration.

The further he slips into geezerhood, the randier Harrison seems to get. The book plants itself on the other end of the spectrum from prissy. If you thought "The English Major" indelicate in any way, I'd suggest passing on "The Great Leader." Sex inherently lends itself to comedy but at some point what's bawdy becomes raunchy. Harrison isn't there yet, but with each new novel he seems to be getting closer.

A thread of narrative weaves through the "Great Leader. The story remains mostly in the background as Sunderson, unhappily divorced from his beloved former wife Diane and recently retired as a law enforcement officer in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, tracks down a cult leader and sex offender named Dwight, The Great Leader, who now calls himself King David.

The pursuit takes Sunderson to the outback of Arizona and into the wide-open spaces of Nebraska. Although he's now retired, Sunderson wants to close out this case as his last act after serving forty years as "janitor trying to clean up the culture's dirt." Sunderson wants to move on and spend his time "investigating the nature of nature."

The story is really about the natural world and Sunderson's respect for the Northwoods and its indigenous people and their culture. His best friend Marion, a mixed-blood Anishinabe (Chippewa), is the voice of wisdom and of Native American lore and legend that saturates this very reverent book.

Mona, who is sixteen years old and sexually precocious, lives next door and enjoys trying to entice Sunderson. I suppose she represents today's mores, our dependence on technology and living in the moment. The large cast of oddball characters also includes cult members Queenie and Carla and Sunderson's 87-year-old mother who has never lost the ability to intimidate.

Even more so than Hemingway, Harrison gives definition to the word macho, which in Sunderson's world is described as "male braggadocio." Harrison's novels are stuffed with tales of "manly pursuits" hunting, fishing and womanizing. Yes, there's a lot of sex, which for Harrison is "the biological imperative." He refers often to and has many names for the male sexual organ and it's described in a variety of states at rest and at play. And as often as he mulling over sex, the act and its meaning, he is talking about food.

Good eating and good sex for Harrison are like two peas in the same little pod. Dining on menudo, a Mexican dish made from tripe, is for Sunderson a vaguely sexual experience, "the labial texture made him horny."

Harrison also likes to quantify things: his fifth worst hangover, his best ever sandwich was, "a real pile of brisket on rye slathered with the hottest horseradish possible so that tears of pain and pleasure came freely" and seven, the number of double whiskeys he prefers to drink in one sitting.

Harrison has written more than thirty books in his long and esteemed career. I'll go on reading everything of his published. Two of his best are the memoir "Off to the Side" (2003), which chronicles an interesting life well lived and his 2002 collection of food writing "The Raw and the Cooked", a celebration of food and Harrison's gusto for good eating.

Obviously, I'm admirer of the writer and Harrison, the person, who admires "even the crudest manifestations of nature." I feel some sort of kinship. I'm Harrison's age. I head to Lake Superior to clear the mind. I share most all of his appetites. Like Harrison, I wait for April when trout season opens. (I'm one up on the writer because as far as I know he's never had the thrill of fishing the streams of the Driftless Area of Southwest Wisconsin.)

I mention all this because it's a clear indicator I'm a biased Harrison reader. With that disclosure - and I believe I've set aside my bias and am being objective here - "The Great Leader" is as moving, memorable and lusty as anything on the Harrison bookshelf.
[4.5 of 5 stars]
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
The aging man's blues 30 Sep 2011
By TChris - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As a divorced police detective in Marquette, Michigan, Sunderson's life is generally sedate. The kind of crime that requires detective work is far from rampant in the Upper Peninsula. His hobbies include trout fishing and surreptitiously watching a teen neighbor arise naked from her bed each morning. Sunderson is sure he would cut off his own hands before touching the girl "but then he wondered how one would go about cutting off his own hands." Every ten days a married woman visits Sunderson for sex. Sunderson considers "what it would be like to be full of firm moral resolve" but clearly that's an experience he will never have.

Sunderson's final investigation before retirement involves a cult leader (known to the cult's members as the Great Leader but adopting the name Dwight as his most recent alias) who was rumored to have been sexually involved with minors before apparently faking his death. Unsuccessful in his attempt to locate the culprit, Sunderson decides to flee from his home after his retirement party (where he is chagrined to learn that his inappropriate behavior with a dancing girl -- who happens to be a potential witness against Dwight -- was seen by the other attendees). Sunderson travels to Arizona where he takes up a new hobby: investigating "the crime of religion," which amounts to searching for Dwight. There he meets more women: Lucy, who reminds him a bit too much of Diane, his ex-wife; and Melissa, a nurse whose protective brother is a drug lord. His time in the Southwest gives Sunderson ample opportunity to ruminate about his failures and obsessions, an occupation he continues after his return to the U.P.

Jim Harrison writes lovingly of land and nature; the reliability of its "indefatigable creature life" contrasts with the unreliability of human nature. Although Sunderson keeps track of Dwight's activities, what passes for a plot in The Great Leader is just an excuse for Harrison to exercise his wit and make pithy observations about American life. Harrison focuses his dry and occasionally outrageous humor on a variety of human behavior (and misbehavior). His most prominent targets are sex, religion, money, divorce, and retirement (the last of which makes Sunderson feel "not quite like a roadkill but like a man whose peripheries have been squashed, blurred, by the loss of his defining profession"). Harrison skewers the notion that men can reinvent themselves after retirement; Sunderson's efforts leave him feeling like "a dog who, hit by a car, drags himself into a ditch trying to be more out of harm's way." As he did in The English Major, Harrison has fun exploring the sexual interests of a man who, having physically passed beyond middle age, demonstrates the emotional maturity of a rutting teenager.

Warnings: In his descriptions of Sunderson's intimate life and fantasies, Harrison is explicit -- no more so than many modern humorists, but enough to put off readers who disapprove of erotic content, even when it's funny. Sunderson's thoughts provide a running commentary on history, politics, and sex after sixty -- topics that might offend readers who disagree with his pointed opinions. Others might be upset that Sunderson doesn't vigorously condemn every adult who has sex with a teenager (a frequent subject of his wandering thoughts). Whether I agreed with Sunderson's opinions or not -- sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't -- they frequently made me laugh, and I found many of his notions about society's failings to be on target.

When I read a Harrison novel, it takes me awhile to adjust to his unique style. I wouldn't describe his sentences as run-on, but the man is no fan of the comma. The style isn't necessarily bad, just different -- although I'm not sure I ever completed the adjustment. I don't read Harrison novels for stylistic brilliance, and I wouldn't recommend this one for its plot, which doesn't amount to much. I nonetheless enjoyed this book (and recommend it) for its humor and for its perceptive takes on life as seen through the eyes of a Midwestern senior citizen. Harrison provokes serious thought nearly as often as snickers and chuckles. He is the best chronicler of the "aging man blues" I've come across. When I laugh at the foibles displayed by his characters, I'm often laughing at myself. That, for me, made the reading experience worthwhile.
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Revealing the Soul's Relationship to the Natural World 25 Sep 2011
By Darrell Koerner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Jim Harrison is the greatest living writer in America because of his deep communion with American landscapes and his amazing ability of being able to interiorize the natural world, and then express in words that which is beyond words. Balanced by his no-nonsense background and love of nature, Harrison is both deceptively simple and deceptively elegant in his appreciation for the basic and finer things of life - hunting, fishing, cooking, drinking, eating, literature, and human sexuality. He sees through mankind's absurd notion of being superior to the earth and other species, while at the same time honoring our eternal quest for knowledge and wisdom. In "The Great Leader", Harrison eloquently reveals that humans are often nothing more than insane bipedal apes and that we also have the ability to correct our insanity by awakening to our deep and original connection to the living universe. Every new book he writes is a testament to this man's greatness. Jim Harrison is a National Treasure.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
dirty old man 13 Jun 2013
By kate - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I usually love Jim Harrison's phrasing and thoughtful prose and meandering story lines. That is not the problem with this book...the real issue I have is that it is a truely boring story. We never really find out enough about the cult, is it a detective novel or just a testement to the lechery of an old men over a 15 yr. old. very disappointing at best.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Mindless Meanderings 8 Jun 2013
By Robert Hooper - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
This book purports to be about the search to stop a cult leader. It is actually a boring stream of consciousness and mindless meanderings from a retired detective who struggles to adjust to retired life. Of course the author included plenty of gratuitous sex. Boring!
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