Guest Post: Harrison’s morose Detective Sunderson trolls the 7 deadly sins

Special to The Clarion-Ledger

 

Jim Harrison has achieved legendary status for his serious literary works, including Legends of the Fall (in film version starring Brad Pitt) and True North, in addition to poetry, nonfiction and films such as Revenge (starring Kevin Costner) and Wolf (starring Jack Nicholson).

But some of his most oddly endearing characters appear in other works, such as his just released The Big Seven. Harrison reprises retired Michigan State Police Detective Simon Sunderson, who appeared in Harrison’s most recent novel The Great Leader (2011). (In 2013, Harrison published Brown Dog, a collection of previously published stories about an equally entertaining Native American pulp wood logger ne’er do well who chases women incessantly, among other misadventures).

Sunderson is a seeker of sorts and also quirky. Psychologists might say he’s chasing his shadow self — qualities a person is in denial about, projecting anger upon those who display them openly.

For example, in Leader, Sunderson doggedly pursues a cult leader with a penchant for sexual relations with young girls. This while Sunderson himself can barely keep from peeping out his window at the 16-year-old girl next door who likes to tease him with naked yoga in the morning (sometimes waving at him!).

Somehow, Harrison makes it work, so creeps, peeps and perps aren’t so scary, just over the edge and courting their own doom. And yes, in Sunderson’s world, we’re all doomed.

Sunderson is a believable curmudgeon of the Finnish Lutheran persuasion, holding a hard-nosed outdoorsman-cop perspective questioning everything, including his own peccadillos, while morosely nurturing his own guilt.

A libidinous goof facing his own mortality in retirement, Sunderson admits that most things he does he screws up, except fishing. Fishing in the Upper Peninsula is his real life, the only place he can really breathe (a theme through Harrison’s books and characters), and the only place, maybe, where his fantasy life and reality combine.

“A fantasy life is a big item for a man,” Sunderson muses in Seven, a reference to the seven deadly sins. “When you have nothing and your mind can make love to the most beautiful woman in the world it can be grand. Or catch a big fish, make a bunch of money.” Admit it, guys: Gotcha!

Sunderson drinks too much and smokes too much and still peeps out the window at the married woman who lives next door now doing yoga in her nightie. (He and his ex-wife adopted the 16-year-old so he had to move on from that fantasy/weakness/sin.)

Harrison has Sunderson immersing himself in the seven deadly sins — and an eighth he discovers, violence — like a dog rolling in roadkill. He purposefully purchases a cabin in a rural area dominated by a backwoods family named Ames who hate, rape and kill each other. He obtains the cabin through blackmail extorting money from the mother of a rock star who victimizes his stepdaughter (whom he guiltily also has sex with). But the fishing is good. Between lecherous musings and multiple couplings, he also manages to solve a few crimes.

Like the whiskey in the flask he carries, Sunderson may be an acquired taste. But once hooked, it’s hard to wriggle free of this mesmerizing angler who trolls the shameful impulses and moral hypocrisies within us and our society.

 

Jim Ewing, a former writer and editor at The Clarion-Ledger, is the author of seven books including Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating, and the forthcoming Redefining Manhood: A Guide for Men and Those Who Love Them, Spring 2015.

The Desolation of Blog  

NOTE: This blog contains spoilers to the film.  Avert your eyes and go see the film before continuing.

The final chapter of the Hobbit came out in theaters and I liked this one the best out of the 3 films.  I liked it the most because it was most true to the book, but only in the sense that 90% of the film was briefly recounted to Bilbo after the battle by Gandalf.  Bilbo was knocked unconscious and slept through the entire battle in the book.  The sloppy way they added the elves to the film and a few lazy love interests (no the least of which was Bilbo and Thorin’s bedroom eyes they kept giving each other) made the Tolkien-nerd inside me angry.  The last thing I was disappointed about what the lack of Tolkien’s  songs that made it to the film.  The Dwarves singing in Bilbo’s house are the only songs in the trilogy.  I felt like cutting all of the songs from the films was a bad move especially because it made sense with the tone of the films and kids movies should always have songs in them in my opinion.

On to what I liked about the film: the battle with the Necromancer is great.  Watching Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel kick Sauron’s ass is great- if a little short.  I would have loved to give them some more camera time.  Finally, the death of Smaug is epic!  The way he wrecks Lake Town is beautifully done and Smaug looks exactly how I imagined him in my head.  I felt they really captured how massive and terrifying he was.  The battle of the 5 armies is well done and the Scottish dwarves riding their war pigs was awesome.   Even though they dragged this book into a trilogy I can forgive them because they brought my favorite book of my childhood to the big screen and did a good job of it.  Thank you Peter Jackson, now put the franchise down and walk away.

 

Written by Daniel 

The Children Act by Ian McEwan  

Jacket (1)A “matter of extreme emergency”: whether or not to allow a leukemic child of 17 and his parents to refuse life-saving blood transfusions is the dilemma for Fiona Maye, a Justice in Family Matters of the High Court. Heady stuff for any philosopher or writer, indeed. From the deft McEwan imagination comes our protagonist Fiona, a 59 year old intelligent, childless, still beautiful, married woman of the law who sensitively addresses the dilemma by interviewing both parents and Adam. The parents’ religion prohibits the use of blood products. Adam, rational, sensitive, and articulate, agrees with them. But the High Court can overrule Adam and his parents’ decision since Adam is not yet 18. It’s relatively easy to guess how Fiona will decide, especially for frequent readers of legal thrillers; but The Children Act is a tense story of moral conflicts that can teeter either way when life, death and religious freedom intersect. The aftermath of Fiona’s decision is where we get hooked into the narrative and befriend Fiona, who has presided over equally painful issues in her judgeship in the High Court.

This reader did balk at McEwan’s rendering of Fiona’s husband as man who would announce to his wife that he intends to have an affair but hasn’t done so yet, but the author succeeds with other strategic characters like Adam and his parents with much greater subtlety and discretion.

McEwen deals with quite a few issues in this book that, to this reader at least, require a thicker or longer narrative.  Raising children versus professional ambition, open marriage versus a stagnant monogamy, adolescent infatuation with a much older woman bordering on obsession in a story already driven by religious choice versus the state’s responsibility toward minors.  In spite of this, the book keeps us entertained, guessing and surprised because McEwan can turn ideas into literary magic just as he did in Atonement and Amsterdam, some years back.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan will be available to purchase in paperback on April 28, 2015.

Written by Pat

The Gatsby-Potter Connection (on picking up old books again, or for the first time)  

One of the joys of teaching high school English is that I get to spend time with some of my favorite books every year.  (A related joy is that I get to teach books I love and, since I’m the teacher, skip the crap I don’t love).  My 11th graders will soon be swinging through Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, and I can’t wait.  There’s so much about the novel that I love: its tightly arranged structure, its use of image both as symbol and as tone-setter; its narrator and his voice.  Yes, the book has its shortcomings, both cultural and craft-wise, but I’m willing to overlook them for lines like this: “Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on”.

There’s been a recent uptick in Gatsby interest, spurred largely by the Baz Luhrman-directed movie version, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby.   But, mediocre movies notwithstanding, the book has been an American force since the mid 1950’s despite having lackluster sales and criticial reception when it was initially published nearly a decade prior.  Book critic Maureen Corrigan delves into what caused the Gatsby renaissance, and why the book has remained so firmly woven into the fabric of American novels, in her nonfiction selection So We Read On.  The book is multifaceted:  Corrigan describes her own personal relationship with the book, but she gives biography of Fitzgerald as well, placing both him and his writing in the context of his life and the larger cultural shifts of early 20th century America.  She also gives keen readings of the books themes and larger ideas, some of which she admits to not having noticed until much later in life.  Like Gatsby, Corrigan’s book is easy to read.  She doesn’t beat the reader with overly scholarly jargon, yet her excitement for Gatsby bubbles off the page.  I will be able to teach this novel better having read So We Read On, but anyone (not just educators) can read and enjoy it.

If you haven’t read Gatsby since high school, but want to revisit it, come by the store and pick up So We Read On.  If you were supposed to read Gatsby in high school but didn’t, we have copies of it, too.  If you’re (un)lucky enough to buy either book while I’m working, be prepared to hear me carry on about it.  And, please, don’t feel any shame if you’ve not read Gatsby at all.  There’s nothing wrong with being “late” to a book, as evidenced by my beginning the Harry Potter series last week.

Yes.  I work at Lemuria, and I’m just now reading Harry Potter.  To my knowledge, I am literally the only employee of the store who hasn’t read it.  But, I’m getting there—and I’m enjoying it.  It’s fun to finally be a part of some of the conversations among the staff, who are (I’m sure you’ve noticed) rabid Potter fans.  And I get a kick out of their giddiness when they ask me where I am in the book.  Oh, just wait.  It’s about to get really good! they squeal, then visibly hold back spoilers.  I don’t feel excluded—rather, this spurs me on to read more, so I can fully participate in the nerdiness that abounds.

The same is true for Gatsby, or any “classic” book.  Getting acquainted (or reacquainted) with a book doesn’t need to happen at a particular time.  That’s the beauty of the written word—it’s not changing.  Books are patient things, waiting for us to pick them up when we’re ready.

 

Written by Jamie

Readin’ and Rockin’ Storytime with Music for Aardvarks

katie-hathcock1-112x150Katie Hathcock will be at Lemuria on Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 10 AM for a “Readin’ and Rockin’ Storytime.”

Music for Aardvarks combines music, dance, rhythm, and story-telling in an action-packed class for kids 6 months to 5 years. Musician and mom Katie Hathcock discovered the program with her own children several years ago and can’t wait to share it with families in Jackson.

Come to storytime with Katie on February 28 to see what it is all about! We’ll be reading AND singing along, and it will be fun for the whole family.

Visit www.jacksonaardvarks.com for more info about how to register for weekly classes and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

aardvarks

 

Calling all employable book lovers!

Lemuria is looking to fill a position or two, and you could be the one! The job requires excellent customer service (You have to be willing and happy to talk to strangers and your coworkers about books), voracious reading habits (That’s right, we read here….a LOT), and a willingness to learn our occasionally complicated systems that keep this store from spontaneously combusting. Full time preferred.

If this seems like the job for you, drop by the store to pick up an application and talk to one of our managers. Know someone who would be perfect for the gig? Share the blog! On your mark…get set…go.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport  

It is my opinion that anyone who finds history books boring just isn’t reading about interesting people or events. Personally, I find the history of Russia to be diverse to the point it’s almost crazy. The country’s history has boasted Mongols, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and of course, the Romanovs. (And that’s all before the whole Communism thing.)

One thing that makes the Romanovs so compelling is how doomed they were. But it’s not like the Bolsheviks swept in one day and boom, no more Romanov. There was an entire Russian civil war brewing, a rumored magician named Rasputin worming his way through the royal family, and a little debacle called World War I.

Jacket (2)That being said, I would recommend The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport to a reader with a bit of knowledge of World War I and the role of the Romanov family in it. This is because this book is specifically focused on the daughters that were never able to wield power, and the the history is a bit more enjoyable when you know about the events surrounding the girls.

Most of us history nerds have studied World War I, Russia, and Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov. But are their daughters worth reading about? Without spoiling too many details, you probably haven’t heard everything. This is the story of four girls who were born into a rich, famous, and oh-so dangerous world. They were isolated for much of their lives, and were little fashion icons, but were required to be under armed guard for any outing, any party. The girls’ individual personalities are shown throughout the text. As I got to know them, I just felt sorry for them. I wish that they had not been Romanovs. I wish that they had been born to normal parents, and not had suffered the downfall of a royal lineage. What a fascinating, yet tragic world this book pulls you into. I recommend you curl up with it immediately, and I promise you will not be bored.

 

Written by Nicola 

The Archives of Conviction 

2015 has started in a bit of a book lull for me.  I have started and stopped multiple books and found myself hard-pressed to commit to anything for more than 20 pages before finding an excuse to read something else.

It doesn’t help that part of my job role at the bookstore is to gather the books of yesteryear, compile a list of keeps and discards, and send the books we no longer want or need from whence they came.  I see books all the time that weren’t able to find a home and my heart sinks with each box we send away.  Sometimes it becomes too much and I take a book out of the pile and sit for a minute to give it the audience it deserves, if only for a short period of time.

Today, a day like so many days before this one, I sat with a book I have looked at and passed over hundreds of times before.

The True Gospel Preached Here by Bruce West

Jacket (14)University Press of Mississippi is often overlooked by younger audiences due to the subject matter they publish.  Of course, I include myself in that pool of younger audiences.  I can’t tell you exactly why I decided to open the book, and I’m sure the marketers over at UP would love to know as well, but I’m happy I did.  The True Gospel Preached Here is a book of photographs by Bruce West that tells a story of persistence and conviction.  It is the story of Reverend H.D. Dennis and his wife Margaret.  In other ways it also describes the dedication of the photographer and his 20 years of work to preserve and capture the work of a man called by God.

There is a beautiful parable to be found on the pages of this incredible book.  Rev. Dennis and his wife transformed an old grocery store into a monument for God and his people.

“God don’t have no white church and he don’t have no black church-only one church, Rev H.D. Dennis.”

The words are as exotic as the church itself.  They cut deep into the soul of what it means to be human.  There is universal truth in the words of a wise man, fixated on a singular cause.  Flipping through the pages of this archive filled me with a great deal of joy.  I was lost in the eyes of Rev Dennis and his wife.  I noticed myself being captured not by the elaborate fixtures built for God, but of the people that created them instead.

Every photograph in this book demands to be studied.  It demands your attention.  In a world with so many people trying to do the one thing they believe they want to do, it was nice to sit with the pages of a book that showed a man and woman doing what they felt was necessary.

Rev and Mrs. Dennis are no longer with us; sadly, they passed away before the book was published.  I’m not sure how much longer the book will be around, so stop by and sit with them for a minute.

 

Written by Andre

Slow Gardening by Felder Rushing

unnamedSlow Gardening is inspired by the Slow Food movement, a movement which supports local food sources and biological and cultural diversity. Felder
Rushing’s Slow Gardening supports a similar movement in gardening which
encourages us to pay closer attention to the rhythm and seasons in our own
gardening community and follow our creative intuition.

Felder’s book is geared toward the new or intermediate gardener, but as a veteran gardener, I found it a refreshing read. The book is laid out in a beautiful and reader friendly format with stories and examples from
Felder’s and other gardens. Each section is peppered with quotes which
speak to life lessons and gardening. Some of Felder’s advice might seem
like common sense, but even the most experienced gardeners can use these reminders because gardening can be trying at times! Perhaps that is why Felder includes an entire section on “Garden Psychology.” Felder also deals with the “Nuts and Bolts” of gardening, dealing with pests, and learning how to compost and fertilize properly.

Slow Gardening is the perfect gift for yourself or your gardening friend as we gear up for another growing season.

Written by Lisa Newman

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

Sometimes there are novels that stick with you for a while. That is how I feel about Christoper Scotton’s debut novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. I know it is only February, but Secret Wisdom might be my favorite book of 2015, and I am not sure how it can be dethroned. It is a coming of age tale set in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky. Innocence is lost, love is found, life is lost, and the earth remains the central character as it heals and renews, even in the midst of being raped and pillaged by strip mining.

Jacket (2)I cannot begin to describe the amount of feelings I had from reading this book. The story and all the characters captivated me from the beginning. As I was finishing the book, I actually started crying. I haven’t cried in a while, and I could tell because the tears would not stop. I attribute the tears to all the feelings that I was having from the entirety of the book. Feelings of joy, grief, excitement, sadness, anger, all coming out in uncontrollable, and unforeseen tears.

This book is a work of art. Not only did it evoke deep feelings, it evoked deep and vivid images of the mountains in Appalachia that have captivated me all of my life. I could see Paul as he advocated on behalf of the mountains. I could see Pops sitting in his chair on the porch drinking his sour mash. I could see Buzzy and Kevin flying through the air on their rope, being submerged by the mud of the earth, and coming out of the earth as kings of their own realm. I could see Jukes Hollow, its amazing pool formed at the base of a waterfall, and the graves that held so many of those who had called the hollow their home. There was not a time in reading the book that my imagination was not in full force.

This novel has stirred something deep within me that I cannot name or grasp; and that is okay. This book will sit with me for a while, and I with it. Not only is it an adventure and a mystery, it is a story that dives deep into the human condition. It is a book that made me ask deep and meaningful questions about the human role in the preservation of the earth and the places we call home.

 

Written by Justin