Last Night in Twisted River – Book Review

LastNightInTwistedRiverThe young Canadian, who could not have been more than fifteen, had hesitated too long. For a frozen moment, his feet had stopped moving on the floating logs in the basin above the river bend; he’d slipped entirely underwater before anyone could grab his outstretched hand. One of the loggers had reached for the youth’s long hair – the older man’s fingers groped around in the frigid water, which was thick, almost soupy, with sloughed-off slabs of bark. Then two logs collided hard on the would-be rescuer’s arm, breaking his wrist. The carpet of moving logs had completely closed over the young Canadian, who never surfaced; not even a hand or one of his boots broke out of the brown water. – from Last Night in Twisted River, page 1 –

Twelve year old Daniel lives with his father, Dominic Baciagalupo, in a logging camp along Twisted River in Coos County New Hampshire. Daniel’s father is the cook for the loggers and has been raising his son alone ever since the boy’s mother drowned in the cold, rushing waters of Twisted River. One fateful night, Daniel mistakes his father’s girlfriend Jane for a bear and accidentally kills her. Frightened that the town’s chief law enforcement officer (a drunk with a history of beating women) will not believe their story, Dominic and Daniel flee to Massachusetts and make their new lives in the heart of Boston’s North End. What follows is the story of not only Daniel and his father, but also the tale of Ketchum – a surly, big-hearted river driver with an independent streak who remains the duo’s friend for years.

Beginning in 1954 in New Hampshire, the novel spans more than fifty years (ending in 2005) and moves from Boston to Vermont to Iowa to Colorado and finally to Toronto. As with all Irving novels, the characters drive the narrative…and Last Night in Twisted River is full of memorable characters. My favorite is the gritty Ketchum whose libertarian politics and belief in street justice (not to mention his avoidance of technology except for his beloved fax machine) make him one of the more lovable and humorous characters of the sprawling novel.

Last Night in Twisted River is classic John Irving story telling at its best. Filled with quirky characters and marked by Irving’s signature meandering style, the novel is big, lush and captivating. I have long been a John Irving fan and so I know that when I open one of his novels I must give myself up to the story and simply go along for the ride. No one tells a story quite like Irving, and in Last Night In Twisted River the story is about life with all its ups and downs, unexpected events, and relationships which surprise us. Wound through the pages of this novel is the idea of fate, chance happenings, and the idea that we cannot always map out our lives.

We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly – as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth  the same sudden way we lose people, who once seemed they would always be part of our lives. – from Last Night in Twisted River, page 550 –

Last Night in Twisted River is also about fathers and sons – a common theme in Irving novels – and how parental relationships shape who we become. Daniel becomes a famous author, and Irving has a little fun with his readers by inserting a bit of himself into the character (who has a tendency to overuse semi-colons in his writing).

All that was true the cook thought. Somehow what struck him about Daniel’s fiction was that it was both autobiographical and not autobiographical at the same time. – from Last Night in Twisted River, page 230 –

Readers who love Irving’s early work (The World According to Garp, A Prayer For Owen Meany, and Hotel New Hampshire), and who were swept away by his controversial novels (The Cider House Rules and A Widow For One Year) will not be disappointed in his latest novel. In Last Night in Twisted River, Irving has brought together all his powers as a storyteller. Despite its length (more than 500 pages), I wanted the book to go on and on. When I turned the final page, I was not ready to say good-bye to the characters I had grown to love. For readers waiting for Irving’s next great novel, the wait is over.

Highly recommended.


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  1. I read this review with baited breath. I’ve been waiting so long for Irving to come back with some classic (Garp, Meany) greatness, and apparently he’s definitely back with this one! I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed it so much.

  2. I haven’t read any Irving – I don’t think I’ve seen a blog review for any of his books either. I’ve just got a copy of Garp, so hope to read it soon. I’m pleased to hear that you’ve enjoyed his books and will push it up to the top of the TBR pile.

  3. It’s wonderful to see this book be so well-recommended! I loved Irving’s early work, and I loved The Cider House Rules and Owen Meany, but the last book of his I picked up was A Widow for One Year, which disappointed me so much I haven’t picked up any of his books since. Perhaps it’s time to try again…

    • Kathy on November 3, 2009 at 13:05

    I’m an Irving fan, so I’ll definitely be looking for this one!

  4. I’m not sure I’m an Irving fan, having only read Owen Meany, but this sounds like it might be worthwhile. Five stars is quite an endorsement!! Still, I may wait for the paperback. This is one hefty tome. And I still have Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs sitting on a shelf — in hardcover. 🙂

  5. I’m such a John Irving fan, cannot wait to read this.

    • Shona on November 4, 2009 at 10:11

    I would want to read this one. John Irving is one of my fav authors..

    • Arial on November 4, 2009 at 12:35

    I read everything by Irving through Owen Meany, then quit reading him – although I saw the film version of Cider House Rules. Thanks for this review. I’ll be sure to put Twisted River at the top of my TBR list.

    • kailana on November 4, 2009 at 12:50

    I really need to read John Irving! He has been on the list forever, but I haven’t had a chance to yet…

    • Teddy on November 4, 2009 at 21:26

    I just had the pleasure of seeing John Irving at the Vancouver International Writers Festival. He really has a wonderful sense of humor. He was an excellent speaker! This book is on my TBR.

    • Wendy on November 6, 2009 at 08:28

    Bookshelf Monstrosity: I was worried about this one because I hoped I’d love it…and I was so happy I did. Irving fans (in general) should be happy with this one!

    Jackie: Oh, I hope you’ll love Irving as I do. Garp is a terrific one to start with (I also recommend Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany as they are classic Irving novels).

    Priscilla: I think some of his later novels were a bit of a disappointment (but it is hard to be great every time!). Widow for One Year was not my favorite Irving either. I think you’ll be happy with this one if you liked Owen Meany.

    Kathy: As an Irving fan, you can’t miss this one!

    Les: Oh, I am looking forward to your thoughts on Bridge of Sighs.

    Michelle: Definitely pick up a copy…

    Shona: Me too…don’t miss this one!

    Arial: Twisted River reminds me a lot of Irving’s early work…hope you’ll like the book.

    Kailana: I recommend starting with Cider House Rules, Owen Meany or Garp…all amazing books.

    Teddy: I’d love to meet Irving…although I would probably trip all over my tongue since I am in such awe of him! Lucky you!

    • trish on November 6, 2009 at 15:52

    I’ll be seeing John Irving tonight! I can’t wait to read Twisted River! Glad it got your stamp of approval! 🙂

    • Teddy on November 6, 2009 at 22:27

    I wish I would have met him however, he didnèt do a signing after his presentation due to time constraints. I was bummed about that.

    • Wendy on November 9, 2009 at 08:24

    Trish: I envy you seeing John Irving! I would love to meet him…although I think I’d be WAY tongue-tied!

    Teddy: Oh bummer…at least you got to hear him speak.

  6. I definitely want to read this one. Thanks so much for the review!

    • Wendy on November 20, 2009 at 08:39

    Swapna: I think you’ll like this one! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts once you’ve read it 🙂

    • Lisamm on November 20, 2009 at 17:01

    I’ve got this one on my nightstand but haven’t started it yet.. now I can’t wait!! Thanks, Wendy!

    • Wendy on November 26, 2009 at 10:19

    Lisa: You’re welcome – I’ll look forward to reading your review of it…hope you love it!

    • Cheryl on June 28, 2010 at 19:40

    Thanks for popping over to my neglected blog. Glad to see so many people looking at and loving my favorite author, but I really wish his editor would man up. Some of Twisted River was just too much slog. It did make me want to reread some of his masterpieces though.

    • Wendy on July 4, 2010 at 17:36

    Cheryl: I don’t mind Irving’s ramblings…but I know a lot of readers did complain about the length of this one.

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