Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cookie, It's Cold in Coos County!

Read 12/09/09 - 12/24/09
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
554 pgs

I managed to secure a reviewers copy of this novel when I braved a request for an online Author Q&A session with John Irving through his publishing company, Random House. He was touring to promote the book, the chat session wasn't approved, but the novel was graciously delivered to my doorstep.

As an Irving newbie, I was unsure what to expect from Last Night on Twisted River. The book jacket informs the reader that the novel follows the lives of 3 characters - the cook, his son, and his lifelong logging friend - across 5 decades. Here is where I initially hesitated. 50 years is a long time. Just how much detail will I be getting into here, how much of each of these men's lives will I get to see? Can Irving keep me interested in the characters as that much time passes?

After only a few pages, I realised I had worried over nothing. Irving is a master at story telling. His sentences can be magical; his timing is nearly flawless. Can he linger too long on a topic, writing in painful intricate detail? Yes. Oh, certainly yes, he can. But it is easily overlooked, and accepted as part of the landscape. Those intricate details, at times, became characters themselves.

Irving begins his story with a powerful opening sentence: The young Canadian, who could not have been more than fifteen, had hesitated too long. 3 sentences later, you discover: The carpet of moving logs had completely closed over the young Canadian, who never surfaced; not even a hand or one of his boots broke out of the brown water. Death - a common theme - sets the tone for the entire novel.

The death of this young Canadian, while not the actual catalyst for the novel, accompanies our 3 characters - "Cookie", Danny, and Ketchum - over the course of the next 50 years. For the sake of our story... those 50 years really begins when an accidental murder with an eight inch cast skillet sets our father and son on a constant run from the 'cowboy' - Coos County's local policeman. Ketchum, who remains in the logging town, communicates the cowboys every move to our two guilty men, warning them to stay hidden and change their names, if they want to survive.

Ketchum was by far my most favorite character in Twisted River. Big and burly; crude and tortured; protective and thoughtful; flawed beyond a doubt, he stood out to me as the wheel from which the entire novel would turn.

There were some things I wish Irving had just steered clear of - politics, and the terrorists attack on 9/11 - not because he couldn't handle them, but because I didn't see the value of them. In my opinion, they did not really add to the story. They almost took something of the story away.

If this novel is about anything, it is about love and loss, pain and healing, fear and hope. It is a novel that should not be missed.

While it was my very first Irving, I can assure you it most definitely will not be my last.

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