on June 7, 2008
I have been waiting for David Guterson's next book for several years.
What I liked: each of the scenes in the mountains with his eccentric and then bewildering friend, John William; the scenes in his classroom (too brief, wanted more, but then I too was a high school teacher); the trek through Europe and Neil's falling in love and early relationship. The reality of how poor many people were in that era as they struggled their way through college was very true to life, and Neil's commentaries on a variety of poets interested me as well.
I also admired the way Guterson interweaves the third-person narrative through secondary narrators even though his protagonist, Neil, is telling the story.
What I disliked: the entire denouement with all the scenes and flashbacks of John William Barry's parents and the endless monolog of the father. The scene in the lawyer's office and the merciless detail also seem to be filling a page quota rather than telling the story.
Overall, yes, I liked this book, but I didn't love it the way I loved "Snow Falling on Cedars" and "East of the Mountains." I think the editor could have helped Guterson trim 50 pages minimum.
on July 10, 2008
But a really lousy execution. Oh my gosh, what a snooze-fest. I so wanted to like this book because I paid full price for the hardback. What a letdown. While the premise is interesting and could have made for an excellent book it is so bogged down by details and irrelevancies that it took everything I had to finish it. I won't recap the plot (what there is of one), since it's been done already, but I will say that The Other is not for the average reader. It's as though Mr. Guterson is trying to relive his day in the sun by writing an award winner. Ain't gonna happen. He uses far too much description and references to the unknown (2 pages of boring poetry, Chinese ideologies, Gnosticsm...ummm, what?!) We get it...the author is smart, the characters are smart, the reader who wants to be entertained by a good book...not always so smart. If he would have stuck to the basic story he would have had another great book on his hands, but as it is The Other is a huge waste of time. I'm giving it 2 stars because the potential was there, the pop culture references were spot on, and the ending was kind of cool, but other than that this book was a real downer.
on October 16, 2009
If you're wondering whether to plow into "The Other," try this litmus test. Rent the movie "Old Joy," which is about two old friends going camping in the Northwest. Seemingly in real time. NOTHING happens in the movie for minutes on end. Nothing is said. There is no plot. There is no tension, no conflict, nothing but two guys in the woods and a lot of pretty scenery. If you like "Old Joy," you'll probably enjoy "The Other" where there is precious little plot, no detail too trivial to be mentioned, and the descriptions plod on for pages on end. As for me, when I want to see life sped up, analyzed, lived to its fullest, I read a novel. When I want to go camping, I go camping.
on January 6, 2012
I picked this "book" up from the local library to listen to on CD during a long drive to visit relatives over the holidays, and was so drawn into it that I wanted to spend the entire weekend in my car so I could continue listening. In fact, I hadn't quite finished it even at the conclusion of my trip home, so I slipped it into the DVD player in my bedroom and continued listening before retiring for the evening. After completing the book, my curiosity about it and David Guterson brought me to the internet and eventually led me to Amazon.
I was astonished at the negative reviews, but when I considered the drawbacks readers noted, it occurred to me that the experience of listening to a book on CD (which I've only done a handful of times)versus reading a book will be inherently different, and might lend advantages or disadvantages depending on the plot line, the setting, the tone, and not the least, the narrator.
In the case of "The Other," I *loved* the detail that other reviewers described as excruciating; I was able to conjure up every scene with exquisite specificity and feel it as if I were there myself. I also enjoyed the quiet and solemn nature of the story and found it deeply compelling without the need for ostentatious drama. In fact, I was so moved by the beauty of Guterson's prose and the humanity in his story that I was brought to tears on more than one occasion. Mostly, however, the narrator (sorry I have forgotten his name) was very skillful in his evokative intonations, richly distinct character voices, and his ability to lend drama with just the right tempo and tenor--he brought the story to life for me.
And note, this book is NOT about camping as another review infers.
So, in summary, I would recommend "The Other" to you if you find the story line intriguing, but if you're concerned about the slow pace, save it for your next long drive and get the CD!
Save yourself four hours and just take two Ambien instead. This tale holds promise but turns out to be a plodding bore-fest. The narrator protagonist tells the story of his eccentric buddy John William Barry.
The latter is a trust fund kid who determines to embark into the woods and live (and eventually die) like a hermit.
Long after the death, the protagonist learns that his friend has willed his $400+ million fortune to the narrator.
I loved "East of the Mountains" and thought "Snow Falling on Cedars" was good but thought this plodding tale was a dud. For example, there are multiple points where a single paragraph runs on for a page, a page and a half.
That alone does not earn the novel my critique, but suggests the degree of tedium that lies in store for the intrepid reader.
This is not a book that you read for plot - it is a novel of introspection, set largely in the mid-'70s. It centers around the friendship of Neil Countryman, who comes from a blue collar family, and John William Barry, the only child of a wealthy family. Though Neil goes to public school and John William goes to a private school, they encounter each other for the first time at a track meet. They are drawn to one another for reasons that are not readily discernible, but for Neil it seems to be John William's quirkiness and daring, and for John William, it is Neil's patience and tolerance. Above all, this is a book about loyalty and the ties that bind.
The descriptions of hiking in the forests of the pacific northwest are so enveloping that you almost feel as though you are walking along with them. The action moves back and forth from the '70s to the present seamlessly, developing the odd behaviors of John William, contrasted with the more middle-of-the-road choices made by Neil. The plot line is revealed early on, and one of the characters spends much time in the present trying very hard to fill in the gaps in his history of the other.
I enjoyed this book very much - as one who is the same age as the characters, I felt as though the narrator could be someone I had known. Many of the experiences were familiar, and as the plot is revealed so early, you are reading largely to fill in the blanks, and to enjoy the beauty of Guterson's writing. Some of the passages were so familiar and resonated with me in such a profound way, that I found myself underlining them, and rereading them later.
on July 5, 2010
Be forwarned: This book goes NOWHERE. And it goes nowhere in 250 pages, slowly. It felt like 500 pages. I wanted to find something to like here, I really did. I enjoy literary fiction that bears out deeper meaning. I've read some good things about Guterson. After this, I will never read another Guterson. Ever.
True story: I never skip paragraphs or pages. This book had me skipping page upon page because I kept closing one eye and then the other and then falling soundly asleep. I stuck with it, though. (Here's why: This book has started popping up on many AP reading lists. High school students, students of any age--this book is nothing but a sedative.) I skimmed loooonnnggg paragraphs for any taste of important (IMPORTANT) character development. Towards the end, the narrator goes to visit his best friend's mother and father and you think, "Here it comes: The big reveal on why he escaped to the wild." But no. No, the author spins out a conversation between the narrator and the father that in no way makes the investment of the reader's time in the story of John William Barry worthwhile.
I have been accused of liking esoteric, windy novels. I hated, HATED this book. This should tell you something. Also, I have never written a review on Amazon because I feel personal preference is important in choosing books of any kind. Who am I to say you should or should not read a book. This should also tell you something.
If you are looking for a novel of intertwining lives and contrasting views on life and how to live it, read Divisadero, Transit of Venus or, God, something else besides this unbearable waste of time.
on February 13, 2015
There are some books you read and pass on to others to enjoy. There are others you read and they become credit for the used bookstore and further purchases. And then, there are those rare few that you keep forever because they strike a chord with you. This is one of those books for me.
I originally bought this book because I have read everything else he has written. I haven't always liked his books but they have a certain feel of silence and calm that I like. Guterson is also an author from the Pacific Northwest and my original reason for purchasing this book was for a book club in which I once participated.
It took me three years to pick this book back up because I associated it with...well, just a lot of negative things that were going on when I started to read it. Spiritual reasons made me pick it back up. The timing was right on.
The story is simple. Two guys meet in high school at a cross country track meet and become friends and hiking companions in the Olympic Mountains. After high school, Neil goes to college and takes the traditional path participating in what John William calls "Hamburger World" while John William wanders, eventually settling in a cave on the Hoh River and becomes an ascetic of sorts.
The story is also not simple. There is a deep unconditional love between these two friends. Neil worries for John William and is constantly hauling things up to his cave through difficult terrain and all weather. Each time he asks John William to come back down with him but each time John William declines.Neil learns things: about simplicity, spirituality, the natural world and our connection to it. Neil worries that John William is mad. He isn't. This does not stop Neil questioning in ways overt and subtle and trying to understand John William. He goes so far as to help John William disappear. Neil comes from a blue collar family and has nothing but himself to give and he gives generously in this way to John William.
John William, while chiding Neil for his choices, does not try to stop him making those choices. He understands that Neil is also seeking but has stopped looking finding his joy in the everyday - college, marriage, children and the "Hamburger World." He understands that some people are able to sink into their lives and settle without addressing "the big questions". Through his asceticism, he knows that he will never stop looking and seeking answers to the big questions and that for him to understand, this is the only way. To fulfill his love for Neil, he gives him starter cash (an unasked for surprise) from his trust fund so that Neil may embark on his life. John William's family are old money Seattle.
One day, Neil returns to John William's camp to find him face down in his fire, dead. John William by this time has spent years up in his cave. Neil undertakes the ultimate task of unconditional love by preparing his friends body (crudely using nature's tools) and placing him in his cave to continue his existence undisturbed. Many years later, John William's body is found and in his (JW) last act of unconditional love and friendship for Neil, he leaves him a very wealthy man.
Each time Neil goes to the cave with supplies, he spends time with his friend. There are many conversations, the reading of poetry, discussions of Basho zen, work in the natural world and conversations. There are also silences filled simply. Sometimes each is absorbed in his own thoughts, sometimes they eat, sometimes they soak in a natural spa they created from a spring, sometimes they read and sometimes they just sit and watch the natural beauty and wonder of the area. It is in the stillness that a friendship transcends the mundane world and you can sit in silence with grace and have the whole universe speak between you in that silence. This is the rarest and most sought after of friendships.
Neil feels guilt for many reasons and the final chapter of the book is a meditation on how the first years of our lives shape us and in many ways shape the experiences we choose to have and the way we see the world. This is a subtle message that is actually woven through the entire book but is crystallized in the final chapter. The tears of man.
If the contemplative life does not move you, then you probably will not enjoy this book. Sometimes there is a lot of detail that on the surface seems redundant and may annoy the reader who prefers to "get on with the story". If you want to sit in the stillness of friendship and unconditional love, then I recommend this book.
on April 8, 2016
This book was, as all that I've read by David Guterson, written beautifully. Again, it did not reach the summit of popularity that his SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS did--that one having been made into a movie--yet, THE OTHER is indeed a worthy read. Mr. Guterson manages to elicit compassion and angst for one character while adroitly showing that early childhood has far reaching influences. Anything this writer puts on paper, as far as I'm concerned, is worthy of "a read."
on April 25, 2016
I write this review with the bias of being a fan of this author's. Once again, Guterson's inclination/knowledge of nature shines through in another one of his books. I was a little bit taken aback, however, when reading the part about Neil's experience in teaching ESL to immigrant children. I especially do not think I talked like that when I was placed in ESL classes as a kid. But, of course, if I was not then moved to more advanced English courses, I might not have ever read any of the author's books. I also did not expect that ending, which gave me much to think about, but then again I did not expect the two friends' time in the woods to end like that, either.