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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrison as moving, memorable and lusty as ever
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"...
Published on September 16, 2011 by Rett01

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars dirty old man
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.
Published 14 months ago by kate


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65 of 68 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrison as moving, memorable and lusty as ever, September 16, 2011
This review is from: The Great Leader (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]
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The aging man's blues, September 30, 2011
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This review is from: The Great Leader (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.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing the Soul's Relationship to the Natural World, September 25, 2011
By 
Darrell Koerner (Boulder, Colorado United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Leader (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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars dirty old man, June 13, 2013
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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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mindless Meanderings, June 8, 2013
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even second rate Harrison is a first rate read., January 4, 2012
By 
John Kotula (Peace Dale, RI) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Leader (Hardcover)
This is less a novel than an excuse for Harrison to string together a couple of hundred pages of his wonderful poetic observations of nature, fishing, love, sex, aging, The Upper Peninsula, etc. Here he presents it in paragraphs rather than stanzas and it is hung on the bones of a very perfunctory crime plot. Nonetheless, the words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages flow by delightfully. If you know Harrison you know what you're in for. If you don't know him start with a couple of his truly great works, Dalva or Legends of the Fall, and come back to this once you've developed the taste.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Went with the flow, December 27, 2011
By 
Michael Moore (Statesboro,, Georgia USA) - See all my reviews
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I've railed at Harrison the last couple of reviews for just mailing it in and not really living up to the promise of earlier works like Farmer and Wolf. I've been reading Harrison since he first started with poetry and haven't read everything, still, I've read most. I was not patient with English Teacher at all and The Great Leader is a lot like that book what with the road trips and various characters meandering in and out and regret and lost love. This time I decided to just read the damn thing since I am close to the same age as Sunderson and picked up on a lot of what I thought were inside jokes for as far inside as I am...like the name Sunderson for example. Sunderson and I would get along if we were neighbors. We think alike on some things and grouse at the same things like gravity. Except I don't look like Robert Duvall. But I am surprised when younger women give me the eye. So reading the Great Leader with no expectations was preferable to reading it with expectations. I always enjoy the food, hunting and fishing stuff because I live way out in the country and like all the same things. Have I made my peace with Harrison? I don't think so. I might check out the poems he just published...but maybe not.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Retirement: looking into the void (4.25*s), December 27, 2011
By 
J. Grattan (Lawrenceville, GA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Leader (Hardcover)
Although elusive cult leader Dwight, aka the Great Leader (GL), or reinvented as King David, is a degenerate criminal, who preys on young teenage girls, just retiring Michigan State policeman Detective Sunderson is somewhat intrigued by GL's ability to meld sex, money, and religion. Even after retirement, Sunderson makes it his mission to track down GL from the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP) to the Apache desert region of Arizona to the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

But the fact is, this book is primarily about the journey of Sunderson himself, including his past, much of which is slowly revealed on his camping and walking forays. Sunderson is an unmoored soul, not at all sure what to do with himself. Not only has his lifelong work disappeared but his lengthy marriage to the good-looking, efficient Diane ended three years before, precipitating protracted drinking bouts, which have lessened only slightly.

He is a pretty good looking, unassuming, and friendly guy, who, through the years, instead of badgering suspects and witnesses, is inclined to cut through their defenses by offering to buy them a beer. But much more is at work with Sunderson than first appears. He has a reverence for history, constantly reading and putting matters into perspective. He is a devoted brook trout fisherman, finding fishing trips and the general commune with nature to be regenerating.

Most noticeable about Sunderson, however, is his continued fascination, at age sixty-five, with women, especially those with shapely rear-ends. And his interest is generally reciprocated, which is not without its troubles. His intimate connection with a nurse he met in an Arizona hospital, while recovering from an assault by Dwight's followers, comes with having to deal with her violent Mexican drug lord brother. And there is 16-year-old next door neighbor Mona, who likes to parade in her bedroom sans clothes with lights on and curtains open. Fortunately, Sunderson is able to redirect that mutual interest. It turns out that she is a computer sleuth extraordinaire and is immensely helpful in nailing down the mysterious Dwight.

The story is really rather ragged - not to mention the writing style - proceeding by leaps and jerks, often with Sunderson in the wilderness on the edge of getting lost or freezing to death. And there is the distracting untidiness of his moving every few days in Arizona, often abruptly, not to mention his unsatisfactory dealings with his mother and siblings who live in Arizona. Most interesting about the book are the musings of Sunderson on all manner of subjects. He works through some of his thinking via long conversations with his friend Marion, a half-Indian school principal in the UP. And although Sunderson is a lusty old guy, he seems to gain a certain stability in his life through his dealings with women.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere in the Middle, December 15, 2012
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This review is from: The Great Leader (Hardcover)
The Great Leader is a fun romp in the drunken and stumbling world of a partial-do-well. Harrison's ease becomes the reader's. But I had hoped his protagonist would spend the bulk of his time with the Great Leader, or at least with the leader's disciples--more than just in the quickie over a wood pile we get. So much meat was ignored. It's a theme that should be revisited.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Retirement: Another rite of passage, February 8, 2012
By 
R. S. Wilkerson (near Stone Mountain, GA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Great Leader (Hardcover)
The Great Leader is a variation on the coming of age novel in which the life threshold is retirement, a rite of passage for which too few of us are prepared when it comes. Sunderson, 65, divorced from his long-time wife just three years before, is retiring from a long career as a State Police detective on the Upper Peninsula. The retirement party -- then it's over, and Sunderson, like many of us, has given no thought to how he will occupy his time after retirement. There is often a sense of disorientation, uselessness, emptiness, and lack of purpose when that which has given shape and meaning to life, one's work, is suddenly no longer there. Like the adolescent discovering maturity, the mature individual discovering old age is a wrenching experience, worthy of a quest in an effort to find meaning. Sunderson's only weapons are an interest in brook trout fishing and reading history.

Sunderson's self-assigned quest is to find legal means to put The Great Leader, Dwight, later known as King David, behind bars. This is not just a story about a retired detective going for one last hurrah: it's a quest to tame one's alter ego, make the transition to a new mode of living, and find one's meaningful place in life, common themes for all of us. The Great Leader is a sexual predator who preys on the young daughters of his cult members. Sunderson's quest is aided by a series of women, each of whom help in some way get him closer to the Great Leader, providing bits and pieces of information which guide him on his way. Sunderson has sexual relations and/or fantasies about each of these women, but never steps over the line into sex with a minor, Mona, although he does enjoy spying on her while she is naked in her bedroom. Sunderson, had he not been "society's garbage collector" for 30 years or more, might have been more tempted to imitate Dwight in a kind of sexual fantasy wilderness. Mona, although she encourages his voyeurism, keeps referring to him as a kind of surrogate father and through her skilled use of the computer is able to provide him with information on Dwight and his locations. The quest in part is a taming of Sunderson's sexual urges.

The story is an interesting combination of individual searches -- both physical and spiritual -- aided by the females, each bringing him closer to a chargeable offense against Dwight; time spend alone; and time spend thinking about the interplay of religion, sex, and money. Nearing the end of the quest, he gains access to the Great Leader's compound as a lowly laborer, and, through the agency of a young girl and her father, Sunderson's quest finally comes to an end. The Great Leader tries to molest the child, who screams. He flees on an ATV and her father pursues him with Sunderson following. Dwight has a serious accident which immobilizes him for life, destroying his sexual capabilities, and Sunderson, his alter ego conquered, his detective persona finally put to rest, his quest for purpose ended, settles down to a type of family life - although they will never live together -- with his ex-wife and Mona, whom she has adopted. He has found the meaning of life for him - love and family - and, having crossed life's threshold - can pursue his life of reading and fishing, one appropriate for a retired individual in the latter part of his life
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The Great Leader
The Great Leader by Jim Harrison (Hardcover - October 4, 2011)
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