Sunday, June 13, 2010

John Irving and the Cook, the Writer, and the Woodcutter

In his twelfth novel, John Irving has me captured--almost. The Last Night in Twisted River takes place in my native New England, features an Italian cook, his novelist son, and a crude but wise woodsman. These men are circled and loved and hated and rescued by a cast of women who never quite achieve full characterization. That sort of works, because this book is about the three men and their failings and attachments to each other. People die because of them. Not always the right people.

What keeps me reading is the embedded lessons on novel writing--a talent which I still lack despite repeated tries. The story line shifts frequently in time, in point of view, and in subject matter. In one sitting, I can see how foreshadowing works, how flashback works, how the motivations of the key characters look from differing perspectives. Hints and details matter. For example, a woman with a notable head of long, dark hair is first seen as unique and attractive in a heavy-set way. When said woman is mistaken by a boy for a bear, she dies from a blow with his iron skillet, and I think aha! that  hair was not a casual trait. It sets the stage for a key event. This killing propels the cook and his then young son into an unsettled life of risk and suspense.  I'm a bit more than half way through the book, wishing it moved a little faster, but willing to see what Irving pulls out from under his hat next. Stay tuned.

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