Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
After I read John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany (which is an outstanding read) several years ago, I went on an Irving reading rampage; I stopped because though the writing was exquisite, the stories had elements that repeated throughout.
That was several years ago. I read Last Night In Twisted River because my wife read it, and in her description it reminded me of why I liked Irving’s books: they take ordinary people, who have strange twists and turns in their lives, and follow them through life, love, loss and usually across America through time. unfortunately, it also has all of those elements that repeated throughout many of the previous Irving novels, making it repetitive and ultimately nothing new…which is why I stopped reading this author the last time.
Last Night in Twisted River is like that, following Danny Baciagalupo and his father Dominic through the years, starting when Danny is twelve and accidentally kills his father’s girlfriend, thinking she was a bear. The girlfriend, Injun Jane, also happens to be the local cop’s girlfriend as well. This starts a life a running and hiding for Danny and Dominic, aided by woodsman Ketchum, Dominic’s sometime friend and Danny’s protector…who was something a bit more to Danny’s wife than just a friend.
Thus starts a string of tragedies, common in the Irving books I have read, which seem to have an individual impacted by a multitude of horrible events. Tragedies, sex with older women, rants at the Vietnam war (and multiple ways to keep men out of the war), rants at America, people getting fingers, hands or arms cut off…and bears; all elements observed from other Irving novels (there is even mention in this book of using a similar method to that employed in Owen Meany to keep a young man out of Vietnam).
The story follows Danny and Dominic from Twisted River to Boston, to Iowa, Vermont and to Toronto, always hiding from the mean cop…or the thought that the cop will come after them. Irving’s descriptions of the scenary and the activities (in this case, cooking as Dominic is a cook) are a pleasure to read. And, as in the other novels, the ancilliary characters were quite interesting and well developed, as was Ketcham the woodsman. Danny becomes a famous writer, and Irving mentions interactions with some of the famous writers he learned from (the great Kurt Vonnegut) as being Danny’s.
But at the end of the book, I started skimming, as the story had similar plot lines to novels read before (though certain occurences at the end of the story (which I will not spoil) though difficult to believe, were new and different).
Yeah i was on an Irving kick for a while too. The first paragraph or two of Owen Meaney hooked me and made me slugg my way through it. His writing is one of those i wish i could take a class on to discuss his themes, because as you say, they crop up quite a bit. If for nothing else i’d like to know what’s the deal with bears! :)