Latest Reading: The Big Seven by Jim Harrison

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Harrison hunting in Montana (courtesy of the New York Times)

Jim Harrison is one of my favorite authors, partly because many of his novels are set in my birthplace of the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. The UP is a sparsely populated area the size of Maryland that forms the southern shore of Lake Superior. It is in my mind, a distinctive place in homogenized suburban America and has a culture of its own. He is from the northern part of lower Michigan and a graduate of Michigan State University. He is most known for the novella that became a movie, Legends of the Fall.

The Big Seven is one of his last books, written in 2015, a year before he died of a heart attack. It is not one of his best, but it was an enjoyable read. He goes back to a recurring character, Detective Sunderson, a retired state policeman and the detective that lives in Marquette, Michigan. It is a crime novel dealing with a violent, poor family living in the western Upper Peninsula. I love his references to life in the UP, like pasties, and his description of the people, places and lifestyle there. You can tell he knows the area. The detective story is a page turner, not for the crimes itself, but for what was going on with Sunderson.

I do have problems with the book. The main character Sunderson is in his late sixties, eats too much and drinks a lot, but is picking up women constantly. I just don’t believe so many beautiful young women are into retired, out-of-shape, alcoholics. He also constantly describes Sunderson’s drinking habits. Some of it felt like filler and a good editor would have helped him.

The title comes from the Seven Deadly Sins. Sunderson is trying to write an essay or novel on his “eighth sin” of violence but is slowed by his drinking and laziness.

Jim Harrison was a literary figure like one of my favorite authors when I was young, Ernest Hemmingway. An adventurer with a zest for the good life whose writing set in places like the American west and northern Michigan. The book made me consider going back to Hemmingway now as a middle-aged man to see how my perceptions of his writing have changed in the last 25 years.

 

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