Maurinejt's Reviews > Last Night in Twisted River

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving
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Jul 26, 2012

it was ok
Read in July, 2012

I have read almost all of John Irving's works, in large part because he is the man who wrote A Prayer for Owen Meany. I have been a little behind because the last two I read were such disappointments: The Fourth Hand was a horrible mish-mash of everything he had previously written without hardly any new content, and Until I Find You was terrible through the first half where the characters wander aimlessly through Europe without much (any!) discernible plot, then BRILLIANT in the second half where you are forced to reevaluate everything you read and figure out exactly what the author is up to. It can't quite make up for the first half slog, though. Still, while I was picking up my library hold for In One Person, I saw Last Night in Twisted River prominently displayed. I figured it was fate and added it to the checkout pile.

Last Night in Twisted River opens in a logging camp in the northeast. It takes place in the fifties, just as the presence of machinery was slowly taking over and forcing changes to the industry. We see this through the eyes of a camp cook and his son, Danny, and I was thoroughly charmed. This is new territory for Irving who is normally at ease in towns and cities among the educated. The characters in the opening of Twisted River are not, but it still was a John Irving novel: they are quirky and the back story has more than a hint of deviance, the dialog is peppered with witty banter; and the expected irony contrasts with the primitive conditions and works perfectly. I love how he describes the cook and the food he prepares. And there is one main character, a passionate old-school lumberjack, almost a mountain man, unlike anything I had ever read from Irving before.

Then the setting changes, and we are back in the familiar John Irving rut. We follow Danny through his life, and it is soon clear that Irving has pasted his own biography to his poor character's story. I think my favorite part was when he goes through all his old novels in chronological order and excruciating detail and examines both their plot and the various reactions to them by friends, family, and critics. It didn't annoy me as much when he did this in A Widow for One Year, maybe because it didn't go on as long, or Ruth's novels were very different than John Irving's own; in this go 'round the similarities are striking (he did skip A Prayer however, which I thought was interesting). It felt like punishment. Like he was flogging his readers for asking, albeit repeatedly, about the line between an author's fiction and that same author's life.

The ending makes me think that it was intended to be more of an exploration than a rant, that he was trying to play games with the presence of an inauthentic narrator/writer in the story. To have the reader ask, who is really narrating this, and is the narrator real or even truthful? William Goldman did exactly the same thing in The Princess Bride, and it worked. Here, it didn't. And Goldman got a lot better story out of it in the process.

This story wanted to stay in the logging camp and be different than anything John Irving had ever told. Perhaps he was too afraid to do it, or the way he plots out a novel (as described in detail) worked against him. Last Night in Twisted River could have been great, but it wasn't.
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