John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times-winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. He also received an O. Henry Award, in 1981, for the short story "Interior Space." In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules-a film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Last Night in Twisted River is John Irving's twelfth novel.
After a three novel fixation on sex both domestic and abroad, John Irving makes a triumphant return to the literary landscape of The World According to Garp (Modern Library) in his twelfth novel, "Last Night in Twisted River". Father Dominic Baciagalupo, a cook for a logging community, and his son Daniel are co-protagonists in a story about manhood, family, love, friendship, a whole lot of cooking, and of course sex (though the sexual exploits of the characters don't overwhelm the story). At first it's the world of logging that pulls you into the story, much as the waters of Twisted River pull young logger Angel Pope into an early death in the novel's first sentence.
The first section of the book, set in the 1950s in the far north of New Hampshire, is absolutely captivating. As with Irving's early novels, a bear plays an important and almost mythical role. The middle section follows Dominic and now writer Danny in an odyssey brought about by their last night in Twisted River, the events of which cause them to vacate the logging town. Unrepentant logger Ketchum, who remains in the woods, plays a significant role in both lives, despite trying to keep his distance. Like TS Garp, Danny becomes a novelist. In the last half of the book the writer struggles with the tragedies of his life - both accidental ("it's a world of accidents", warns his father) and arranged (despite the best efforts of the ever-vigilant Ketchum) - and with crafting novels, striking a balance between the autobiographical and the imagination. Again, the result sweeps you along in its current.Read more ›
Some John Irving books I have loved and immediately devoured, and others I haven't been able to get past page 50 on...so as much as I look forward to a new Irving novel, I'm never sure which type it will be. With "Last Night in Twisted River" I took a deep breath and dove in...and I made it half-way before I started skimming; it's just too much of the same old thing.
The main characters are father and son, Dominic and Danny Baciagalupo, who begin in a logging camp (Dominic is the cook) and flee to Boston when "something bad happens". If you've read John Irving before, you know that the "something bads" that he details (and I mean DETAILS) are never run-of-the-mill accidents or incidents. His plot lines are full of freak-of-nature occurrences and amazing coincidences. Irving actually self-parodies in this novel regularly, as he described Danny's burgeoning writing career. As an example he (as the omniscient narrator) states: "...in any novel written with a reasonable amount of forethought, there were no coincidences." Again making fun of himself he writes: "...extreme details were mere indulgences the more mature writer would one day outgrow." Ha.
Present here, as with all Irving novels, you have several thoroughly researched and detailed accounts of setting and industry, such as the descriptions of the logging process in the 1950s, the workings of a logging camp, pizza making....
Also ever-present are some familiar Irving symbols such as the severed limbs, bears, older women sexually initiating boys too young, abortion, freak accidents, shallow women characters.Read more ›
I've read most if not all of John Irving's novels, and some of this book was really, really good. That's what makes this so frustrating. The main narrative kept getting bumped aside for long, self-indulgent rants on being a writer (a famous writer at that) which really made me want to put the book down and walk away. And, in typical Irving fashion, he spends a lot of pages trying to fit in a long winded political discussion that has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. In some books, like A Prayer for Owen Meany, I could put up with all the tangents because the end result was brilliant. This time around, I'm not sure it was worth it.
True fans of John Irving will applaud this victory lap as the one-time wunderkind of contemporary literature comfortably enfolds himself in the mantle of elder statesman, having fun with his fans and critics along the way. Longtime Irving followers will enjoy seeing how he echoes past themes and trajectory of his own career in telling the story of Daniel Baciagalupo, aka Danny Angel, a novelist who scoffs at the media obsession with sorting the autobiographical elements of his fiction from that parts "that were `merely' made up." But yes, here's a fictional character who had much the same academic career as Irving (wrestling, prep school, university, Iowa Writer's Workshop, teaching venue), achieved bestsellerdom and prosperity with his fourth novel, tackled explosive political issues like abortion in his subsequent novels, got involved in movies, lived part-time in Canada, and so on. Part of the fun for fans is seeing how he departs from these familiar elements of his career and his fiction. The ominous "undertoad" from The World According to Garp is recast here as a blue Mustang automobile. The bears that figured so prominently in early Irving novels are waiting in the wings here, but left waiting as offstage characters only. Onstage, however, the key character of Injun Jane is cast in a scene that brought to mind one with Susie the Bear from The Hotel New Hampshire, although here the consequences kick the novel into high gear. The novel unfolds more deliberately than fans of earlier works may remember or prefer, dangling meaty morsels of plot but then diverting and eventually circling back later to fill in the blanks. The slower pace adds to the richness of the experience, though, and Irving's trademark vivid characters, earthy dialog, and baroque plot twists do not disappoint.Read more ›