In 1954, in the cookhouse of a logging and sawmill settlement in northern New Hampshire, an anxious twelve-year-old boy mistakes the local constable’s girlfriend for a bear. Both the twelve-year-old and his father become fugitives, forced to run from Coos County–to Boston, to southern Vermont, to Toronto–pursued by the implacable constable. Their lone protector is a fiercely libertarian logger, once a river driver, who befriends them.
In a story spanning five decades, Last Night in Twisted River–John Irving’s twelfth novel–depicts the recent half-century in the United States as “a living replica of Coos County, where lethal hatreds were generally permitted to run their course.” From the novel’s taut opening sentence–“The young Canadian, who could not have been more than fifteen, had hesitated too long”–to its elegiac final chapter, Last Night in Twisted River is written with the historical authenticity and emotional authority of The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is also as violent and disturbing a story as John Irving’s breakthrough bestseller, The World According to Garp.
What further distinguishes Last Night in Twisted River is the author’s unmistakable voice–the inimitable voice of an accomplished storyteller. Near the end of this moving novel, John Irving writes: “We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly–as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth–the same sudden way we lose people, who once seemed they would always be part of our lives.”
Amazon Best of the Month, October 2009: A long, delicious trip to the land of Irving is hands-down the best way to begin the month of October. A trio of tragic events (though the prize for most hell-shocking goes to the third) exiles widower and camp cook Dominic Baciagalupo and his son Danny from a mid-century logging outpost called Twisted River. They leave behind the Bunyan-esque lumberjack Ketchum--a gruff, eccentric, dyed-in-the-wool Yankee--who remains their sole connection to the past. What's next neither father nor son knows: their rootless existence moves swiftly in and out of New England, tied ostensibly to jobs for Dominic and schools for Danny, but it seems one foot is always back in those New Hampshire woods. Theirs is a restless, richly observed journey, crowned by a reckoning no one could predict. Few writers can match John Irving's knack for denouement, and in Last Night in Twisted River, his extraordinary ending is made all the more powerful by a story that feasts on language, life, and love. --Anne Bartholomew