Pete Dexter’s first book report in 55 years appeared in the New York Times Book Review yesterday. It is about Jim Harrison’s latest novel, “The Great Leader”:
To enlighten and to entertain: what else is there? And while good books — even so-so books — serve both functions, if you ever have to choose one over the other, keep in mind that a book that entertains without enlightening can still be a guilty pleasure, but a book that enlightens without entertaining is algebra.
… I would mention that for me, Harrison set the hook deep and early, in a novella called “Revenge.”
There is a scene in that story of almost incomprehensible savagery — Harrison by the way is as good at writing violence as anybody, and particularly gets the weirdness of the incubation period — and he accomplished this particular violence by interrupting himself and manually moving readers to the fireplace mantel, where they could watch without getting hurt.
It was one of Harrison’s moments of instinctive genius, I think, perhaps the only way to bring off the scene without changing the mesmeric sound coming off the pages to something more ordinary, and I mean it as no disrespect to speculate that these moments are in some way out of Harrison’s hands, and very close to magic.