Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

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Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A convoluted read far more bendy than the titular river, but this tale is expertly absorbing, and never limpid.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 672 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Black Swan
ISBN: 978-1408801840

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We start in 1954, in the middle of nowhere, in a log-cutters' encampment. The cook lives alone with his twelve year old son, in some kind of comfort - a decent job, familiarity with the harsh surroundings and the hardened people inhabiting it. But a pair of tragedies - one involving a fatal work accident with a young teenager new to the job, force the pair to flee. They leave behind a red herring that they hope will force the local brutal policeman to get the wrong impression, and a best friend in the shape of Ketchum, the most hardened logger in the camp as a kind of safety-net, but their destiny, spread over the next few generations, will prove to still be populated with tragedy, romance, despair - and the constant look over their shoulder to the tiny settlement of Twisted River.

The son is in all probability the main character, for too many of the tragedies - and not nearly enough of the romance - occur on his path. He slowly develops as a writer, basing many of his fictions on some form of what happened to him - until that gets just too much - and his life and career are carried through several locations, many years, copious bendy, twisty side-streams - his story is more tortuous than any waterway mentioned within these pages.

You might be mistaken for picking up a 'state-of-the-nation' sense from the blurb to this book, but that is not evident. Yes, some of the American history the characters live through - Vietnam, 9/11 - is backgrounded, but this is instead yet more evidence that John Irving is channelling something a lot more nineteenth century, and purely concentrated on the plot in the way I and many more readers would much prefer.

There is a distinctive style here, but the fact that so many times the characters are named for their status and employment rather than a basic pronoun, can be ignored. Above that there is the weft of timelines, as the narrative drops back a few years to recap, or to leave us hanging with a cliffhanger-styled poser - or again seems to be imbued with the author's output. But again style is secondary to sheer enjoyable, absorbing plot, and you can rest assured this wodge of 650pp+ is just as eminently readable as you would wish. There might be some kind of inevitability in some aspects, but add to everything the distinctive characters, such as Six Pack Pam, and the other unusual women in the author's life, and the bittersweet tragi-comic sensibility that runs throughout, and you have to admire this book as much as enjoy it.

This edition contains a brief author's note, admitting that some of the approach to writing that the author here has, bears things in common with that of John Irving. "The kid simply had a gift for storytelling" one character says of our hero - and you can see how that's true with regard to his inventor. If only all doorstops flowed as brilliantly as this.

Buy Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving at Amazon.com.


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