Two-thirds of Vidar Sundstol’s ‘Minnesota Trilogy’

The Land of Dreams

Kind of like Sigrid Undset, only anti-Christian.

That’s my reaction after reading the first two volumes of Norwegian author Vidar Sundstøl’s “Minnesota Trilogy” – The Land of Dreams and Only the Dead.

Lance Hansen is a “forest cop” – a policeman in the Superior National Forest, in Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region. He’s a good man, devoted to his (broken) family and fascinated with genealogy and local history. One day, while checking out an illegal camping spot, he finds a naked man babbling in a foreign language. At length he recognizes it as Norwegian, his father’s native tongue. Nearby he finds another naked man, viciously battered to death.

The case is quickly handed off to the FBI, as the crime scene is on federal land. But Lance keeps poking around the edges. Not to find the truth – he’s very much afraid he knows the truth – but because he saw something that day, something he has not told and will not tell anyone, for personal reasons.

A Norwegian policeman is flown in to participate in the investigation. His insightful observations of the Norwegian-American community are the best part of the book.

The second book, Only the Dead, is a somewhat shorter work, almost a novella. It’s very simply constructed, in two strands. First there’s a single hunting trip in which Lance and his brother Andy participate together. Lance doesn’t really want to go, and before long the hunt turns into more of showdown.

There’s also an extended narrative describing a historical incident Lance has been researching – the murder of an Ojibwe man by one of his own ancestors, more than a century before.

The first strand ends in an ambivalent way, pushing the reader to the next volume for explication. The second strand culminates in a scene of combined homoeroticism and necrophilia that put me off entirely. I don’t care enough about how the story comes out to go any further with these books.

Another annoying thing about Only the Dead is that both hunters are described as wearing dark green. Anyone who knows anything about American hunting knows that deer hunters are required by law to wear blaze orange, so as not to be shot by other hunters.

There’s also an ongoing problem with paragraphing, which I don’t blame on the author. It may be a problem with Kindle publishing. The paragraph breaks confuse the reader as to who is speaking, in long dialogue scenes.

But my main problem is an ideological one, which won’t impress some readers. Throughout these books, people who take the Bible seriously are painted as morally stunted and culturally blinkered. Native American spirituality (of course) is presented as full of deep wisdom and healing. I cut the author some slack in The Land of Dreams because the characterizations are generally very good, and author Sundstøl seems to have few axes to grind. But he’s clearly down on Bible Christians.

So I won’t read the third book, and my evaluation of the first two is mixed. The books are well-written and likeable (or at least the first one is). But conservative Christians will find them offensive. Cautions for pretty much everything you’d think.

2 thoughts on “Two-thirds of Vidar Sundstol’s ‘Minnesota Trilogy’”

  1. I didn’t get as far in the second book as you did, but, yeah, your objections seem entirely fair. Also, I remember thinking that it seemed the author was spinning out the story. Did this all really need to be three books? I guess we’ll never know. I doubt I’m going to lose any sleep over that.

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