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The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind

3.34  ·  Rating Details ·  581 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
Like his novel, Snow Falling On Cedars, for which he received the PEN/Faulkner Award, Guterson's beautifully observed and emotionally piercing short stories are set largely in the Pacific Northwest. In these vast landscapes, hunting, fishing, and sports are the givens of men's lives. With prose that stings like the scent of gunpowder, this is a collection of power.

Paperback, 164 pages
Published April 30th 1996 by Vintage Books (first published 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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angels in the snow -2.5
opening day - 2.5
day of the moonwalk - 3
aliens - 3.5
wood grouse on a high promontory overlooking Canada - 4
piranhas - 2.75
three hunters - 2.75
American elm - 3
arcturus - 3.5
the flower garden - 4.25
Mar 23, 2015 Edward rated it really liked it
As the title suggests , this collection of ten short stories looks ahead to the future and back to the past. If there's any theme that unifies them, it's a sense of aloneness, not loneliness so much as a feeling of isolation shown in these words from "The Flower Garden," ". . . suddenly I felt more alone than I ever had, more desolate, more burdened by my own soul and who I was, however ineluctably . . ." This is the last story in the collection, about the breakup of a romance and aside from the ...more
Jun 09, 2016 Carla rated it it was amazing
A lover of short story collections, David Guterson does not disappoint. Noted more for his book Snow Falling on Cedars, he's written thought provoking, sometimes disturbing stories. Set mainly in the Pacific Northwest, and mostly about boys, men, and the transition from one to the other. Guterson has a way with words that I enjoy savouring. While Mr. Guterson has such incredible skill in descriptive landscape, in short story telling, he has had to use other skills that poignantly resonate with m ...more
An enjoyable collection of short fiction by the author of "Snow Falling on Cedars". Since I'm a fan of the form I was delighted to read this volume. Even though Guterson struggles with theme and character (it was his debut) and the stories themselves are pretty simple, he has a knack of writing about the Pacific Northwest and these stories, slowly and leasurely paced, have a soothing effect. Most involve boys growing up and confronting life, so if that's your thing by all means give it a try.
Feb 20, 2012 Melki rated it liked it
I would have liked to rate this higher. The stories are beautiful - descriptive and evocative, full of sadness, longing, and regret. But nothing really pops out to make them stand above being just pretty words. The characters seem lifeless compared to their vividly-painted backgrounds, and this makes the stories ultimately...forgettable.
Jul 25, 2011 Stefanie rated it really liked it
David Guterson is one of my favorite authors. His short stories are nothing short of genius. Full of deep conversation and raw emotion, he manages to fill a few pages with more heartfelt writing than some authors can do in a complete novel.
Oct 20, 2011 Anne rated it really liked it
Short stories by the author of Snow Falling on Cedars. Wonderful descriptions of nature - forests, changing of seasons. Most are about young men (and some old men), some are dark and sad. Read it for the description power of the words.
My edition seems to be only the five first stories of this collection:
Angels in the snow
Opening day
Day of the moonwalk
Wood grouse on a high promontory overlooking Canada

This was the first book by Guterson for me. I liked the melancholic stories about boys and men, the descriptions of old and new generations were touching.
Jul 22, 2017 Susan rated it liked it
This is a book of short stories. Though the writing was good, the stories didn't make much of an impression. Many of them were just depressing.
Dec 22, 2016 Pam rated it really liked it
Love his writing. I get such a sense of place while reading his stories.
Feb 18, 2008 Stephanie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Short story lovers (it's nothing like Snow Falling on Cedars)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Book Concierge
This collection of short stories explores relationships – man and wife, boy and girl, father and son, brothers or friends.

I really liked a couple of the stories. Opening Day looks at three generations of men in one family as they go duck hunting on opening day. Narrated by the man who is both son (to Pop) and father (to Sean), it shows how certain wisdom is passed along through shared experiences. The reader also watches the men come to the realization that Pop’s days of hunting are over, that
Jan 14, 2010 Spike rated it really liked it
Some wonderful stories in here, which many readers may characterize as coming-of-age tales. I'd say they are closer to simply "in age" stories. The protagonists are usually teenage boys or young men. Guterson has a wonderful way of taking the reader right under the character's skin, especially when he writes in first person. A good example is the last story in the collection, "The Flower Garden", in which a young man struggles with love for the first time. other standouts are "American Elm" and ...more
Grady McCallie
Nov 03, 2012 Grady McCallie rated it it was ok
What an unhappy set of stories! The overall effect reminded me of Flannery O'Connor: beautiful writing, but nearly every family, every life is dysfunctional, dominated by regrets or human flaws. In most of these stories, men or boys struggle with feelings of loneliness or inadequacy, blocking them out until something sharp or final forces an inbreaking of awareness. The memory of confronting that despair typically haunts the narrator for the rest of their lives - the stories are often told years ...more
Lynn Pribus
Jan 01, 2016 Lynn Pribus rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
Interesting to read The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind by Guterson and Ford County by Grisham at the same time. Both are short story collections. The first is painfully literary while the second is commercial tell-it-like-it-is good-ole-boy Suthren style tales.

And I found I liked the commercial vein. Guterson -- author of Snow Falling on Cedars which I loved -- writes so beautifully and lyrically that for me it got in the way of the story. After a couple stories, I found it hard to reme
Jan 25, 2012 Hannah rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
I have mixed opinions on this book. I really disliked the first two stories in this, they were extremely over descriptive. Fifteen words for every one actually needed! And this is exactly the reason I wouldn’t normally go near a short story collection. I persevered and I found it improved, however overall it has to be said it’s quite a ‘male’ book in that there’s a lot about fishing, shooting, basketball etc. I don’t like to be that stereotypical but I don’t think I’m the only person to have tho ...more
Jan 29, 2012 Kari rated it it was ok
These short stories by David Guterson almost sounded like the first chapters of books he just never wrote. They did not feel like they had closure at all. I understand that short stories are to leave the reader pondering what happens next and creating that in their own minds, but Guterson's short stories were different than that. As the reader, I expected to turn the page to read on to get more information, not just wondering what would happen next. I felt that I did not get to know the characte ...more
Oct 30, 2013 Toni rated it it was ok
This is the first book that I have read from this author. I picked the book up since the authors book, Snow Falling on Cedars, was not available and did not realize this book was a collection of short stories. When almost finished with the book, I decided to see how others perceived this book. Did they find it as odd and mundane in some chapters as I did or did they understand the intent the authors was going for. The best review I read was from a gal that wondered if this was possibly a collect ...more
Victor Carson
Aug 07, 2015 Victor Carson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
A very powerful, moving set of short stories, written in the same time period as Guterson's best known novel, Snow Among the Cedars. Most of the stories look back at a period or incident from the past - sometimes to the distant past, from age 70 to the storyteller's late teens; sometimes to the more recent past of 20 years or so. The author's clarity of vision or of remembrance is captivating, and reminds me very much of the author's descriptions of events in Snow Among the Cedars. There is a gr ...more
Sep 18, 2016 Joanne rated it really liked it
In this well-crafted selection of short stories, the author displayed the same skill of describing the landscape that made his novel Snow Falling on Cedars so evocative. His description of the duck-hunting fields in Opening Day was perfect; the forest campsite in Three Hunters came alive.

It was his skill in developing character that really impressed me. The creepiness that pervaded Piranhas, the agony Gary brought back from Vietnam in Wood Grouse...Overlooking Canada, the tentative friendship b
Apr 30, 2011 Steven rated it really liked it
A solid story collection that shows the early promise in Guterson's writing. I always enjoy it when you can see the seeds for a writer's later novels in their first stories, as it's a tiny window into how their thinking evolved on the subject or characters. But, it's the final story here, "The Flower Garden," because it is so different than all the others and anything else I've read of his, which really stands out. It's a stunner that is uncommonly wise about young love and it's enduring effect ...more
May 28, 2014 Sarah rated it liked it
3.5, but maybe a 4 once it all settles. I like David Guterson so much-- there's something about his writing that makes me feel like I actually understand the Pacific northwest or what it's like to be a man, when at the same time I know I'll never really understand what any other person is going through or thinking...and I like that. The stories definitely get more somber as the series progresses, and they are all pretty quiet and masculine, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed reading this collectio ...more
Angela Gaskell
Feb 02, 2014 Angela Gaskell rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, fiction
Wow. Beautifully written. Guterson has a talent to take the world around us and turn it into something captivating. The emotions that he portrays through his characters stick with you. There's depth, darkness, light, and curviness to his word choices. The flow of the stories are ricky and yet gentle, like the rivers he writes about. The reader knows these characters' emotions, experiences, these feats, these choices, etc. because these stories are relatable and real. I really liked this collecti ...more
Garlan ✌
This is a small collection of stories set mostly in the Northwest, with a varied group of characters all coming to grips with often personal, and seemingly small events. The power of many of the stories lay in Guterson's deft use of prose and minimal dialogue that somehow still carries a lot of weight. Only a couple of the stories really stood out from the rest, but all were good IMO. Small incidents have great importance and make a larger impact on the characters. All in all, a good read. 3 1/2 ...more
Jan 06, 2017 Les rated it liked it
My Original Notes (1997):

By the author of Snow Falling on Cedars. Good, but not great. Short stories. The last was the best ("The Flower Garden"). Guterson writes beautifully. I just wasn't interested in fishing and hunting themes.

My Current Thoughts:

I wrote about Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars here. I really enjoy Guterson's prose, but I'm not a huge fan of short stories. It would be fun to go back and reread The Flower Garden, but I have no interest in revisiting the entire collection.
Oct 12, 2007 Andrés rated it really liked it
An excellent set of short stories that probes the sadness of living. The plots are not extravagant and their telling is quite plainspoken. The writing style has a self-taught air about it that precludes any sentimentality for what are all quietly sad stories. They touch on death, love, coming-of-age, and what it means to grow old, all told in an honest manner that avoids the climactic and the cliché.
Oct 01, 2013 Hannah rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories
As is often the case with short fiction, the pieces were either hugely resonant with me or uninspiring, with nothing in the collection falling in between. The final three stories: "American Elm", "Arcturus", and "The Flower Garden" felt the most complete to me, as if Guterson had found the marrow of his theme just in time for the finalé. Granted, they also relied most heavily on imagery of the ten, which is undoubtedly the author's greatest strength, along with his deft creation of place.
Jan 21, 2013 Cara rated it liked it
These stories evoke a similarly sad mood and mostly have themes of growing up or aging, which I found either depressing or difficult to relate to, as they are all about men and boys (likely the target audience, so I can't criticize that). However, I love David Guterson's writing. The descriptive passages are mesmerizing and I love the Northwest settings. The stories feel so real that they were sometimes uncomfortable to read--not entirely a bad thing, I suppose.
Karen Erdmann
Jan 06, 2017 Karen Erdmann rated it did not like it
I read five out of the ten stories and did not wish to read more. It was just not to my liking. Why? I can easily say that I do not enjoy elevating base behaviors. The story lines were not uncommon to the human experience but I do not feel compelled to make this a part of my plan to read for enrichment. I do not dispute that these are a common thread in life but the stories did not feel redeeming in any way.
Dec 27, 2013 Sandra rated it really liked it
Snippets from life stories by the award-winning author of "Snow Falling on Cedars." The short stories have the same feel of Gutterson's narrative voice. Stories range from a duck-hunting trio with an aging father and his sons, possibly on their last hunt together, to a teenaged boy who deals with the distance he feels from his parents by setting up piranha tanks in his room. Quick but poetic read.
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David Guterson is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, journalist, and essayist.

He is best known as the author of the novel Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), which won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award. To date it has sold nearly four million copies. It was adapted for a 1999 film of the same title, directed by Scott Hicks and starring Ethan Hawke. The film received an Academy Award nomination f
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