The 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.