I finished reading Last Night In Twisted River by John Irving late yesterday. I’ve been posting about this book on and off for the past month, and that’s because with my deadlines the only chance I get to read for pleasure is late at night.
I’ve read everything John Irving has ever written. I started reading his fiction in college for a “Contemporary Fiction” class and ever since then I’ve been a fan of his work. I’ve always considered his writing style as untouchable. In other words, if I started something John Irving wrote without knowing it was written by him, I’m certain I’d be able to recognize him at once.
And Last Night In Twisted River was no exception. This book is John Irving at his best, from the tormented tale of Domenic the cook to the unusual circumstances that shape Daniel the writer’s entire life. The book follows Domenic and his son Daniel through the course of a lifetime, from a logging camp on the Androscoggin to a quiet house in Toronto. As in real life…and this is something I love about John Irving’s fiction…there are always certain “things” that follow us around all our lives. Even if we try to ignore these things, they catch up with us when we least expect them. In fact, there’s no place secure enough to hide from certain things. But more than that, we can’t hide from love, sorrow, unfulfilled expectations, achievements, revenge, and grave losses. And many times the only thing that keeps us going is hope…even though we may or may not be very good at hoping.
The cast of characters are as simple and as complicated as in all of Iriving’s other books, especially one character in particular: Ketchum. He’s the crusty old codger we love and hate. He’s the quirky philosopher we wonder about sometimes. And, most of all, he’s the wise one…who makes coffee with egg shells and loves to watch moose dance…that many of us wish we had in our own lives.
But if you’re looking for a quick, simple read, this might not be the book for you. This is a book that’s meant to be read slowly and taken step by step. There are sentences and paragraphs that should be read more than once in order to grasp the full meaning of each individual character. I read about Six-Pack Pam more than once several times. And I kept going back to read about Danny Angel the writer, after Daniel changes his name to Danny Angel the writer, so I could understand his tormented marriage completely.
There are sections where the book becomes political, especially when Daniel the writer starts posting news clippings on his Toronto refrigerator. But this is fiction, not real life. And the opinions and rants are coming from characters who don’t really exist, which makes the political sections more entertaining than anything else.
I could continue for days writing this review. I could write about Injun Jane, fat Carl, Ketchum, Carmella, and poor little Angelu. I could mention the charming Italian flair and the excellent food descriptions where a hint of honey is added to pizza dough to make it sweeter. But I’m going to end here by saying I can’t recommend this book enough to serious fiction readers. You have to start out slowly and build up momentum, but once Irving has you hooked, to the point where you feel you know these characters personally, you’re not going to leave until you’ve read every last word he’s written.