True North by Jim Harrison is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. David Burkett comes from a long line of men who made their considerable wealth by raping the land, logging off thousands of acres leaving behind a moonscape of stumps. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop at raping the land, David’s father likes young girls, just arriving at their teens. Appalled by the way the family fortune was amassed and distraught over his father’s evil ways, David sets as his life’s work the task of recording and disclosing the way his family ruined the land. David is an avowed outdoorsman, he loves to hike, paddle, and fish. Fly-fishing is an absolute passion. But the cloud of his family’s actions, the way his easy life came to be, and what they did to the places he loves, hangs like a shadow over him. He has difficulty trying to achieve a lasting, loving relationship with a woman. The female he gets along best with is his dog, Carla, his constant companion.
Cynthia, David’s younger sister, solved any angst over her family’s misdeeds by turning her back on their society completely. She married the Native American gardener’s son, (a move certain to upset her parents) and made a good life for herself without any of the trappings of wealth.
The story opens with David’s father suffering a brutal death, then goes through David’s life until the reader understands how that demise came about. By turns funny and tragic, it is a story suffused with the landscape of the Upper Peninsula.— Deon Stonehouse
An epic tale that pits a son against the legacy of his family's desecration of the earth, and his own father's more personal violations, Jim Harrison's True North is a beautiful and moving novel that speaks to the territory in our hearts that calls us back to our roots. The scion of a family of wealthy timber barons, David Burkett has grown up with a father who is a malevolent force and a mother made vague and numb by alcohol and pills. He and his sister Cynthia, a firecracker who scandalizes the family at fourteen by taking up with the son of their Finnish-Native American gardener, are mostly left to make their own way. As David comes to adulthood-often guided and enlightened by the unforgettable, intractable, courageous women he loves-he realizes he must come to terms with his forefathers' rapacious destruction of the woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, as well as the working people who made their wealth possible. Jim Harrison has given us a family tragedy of betrayal, amends, and justice for the worst sins. True North is a bravura performance from one of our finest writers, accomplished with deep humanity, humor, and redemptive soul.