Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Last Night in Twisted River - John Irving (Audio)


Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I recall that John Irving may have been the original inspiration of Rebecca's term "pantyworthy". (Meaning the author is at such a rock-star status, that bibliophiles could be inspired to throw undergarments at them.) Whether this is true or not doesn't matter...it is what I think of when I hear the man's name. Yes, the man is attractive, and yes he is a storyteller. I was quite open to the idea of Irving's latest, Last Night in Twisted River, being our first official read for the Heathrow Literary Society. I needed to get in on the excitement.

Synopsis: Widower Dominic Baciagalupo, a cook for a small logging community in New Hampshire, and his son Daniel live a modest but comfortable existence until two tragic events change the course of the rest of their lives. Dominic decides that to best protect his son, they must flee, and do so for a majority of their lives.

Covering 40+ years and thousands of miles (including Boston, Iowa, Colorado and Canada), Irving delivers with vivid description the lives of Dominic and Daniel and their odyssey. The rugged logging lifestyle, the drug culture and Vietnam, the passion of en familia Italia in Boston, a street-level view of the restaurant business, the life of a successful author, child-rearing in an all-male single-parent household, US politics after 9/11, and probably a dozen more storylines I'm not remembering.

There is more here, though, than a slice of the 20th century pie. It is also about the softer stuff...manhood, friendship, loneliness, loyalty, pride, and love. Perhaps for Irving, this is his all-American novel?

My thoughts: This is one of those books that you must go along for the ride. To enjoy the ride, you're going to have to come to terms with total cohabitation with the Baciagalupos for as long as it takes you to read 574 pages (or 20 discs). There is alot of detail to wade through here.

Overall, I found the story mildly entertaining. Intriguing at times, slow at others. I thoroughly enjoyed shadowing Dominic in his life as a cook. His famous pizza, his pasta dishes, his dabbling in French and Chinese cuisine...I felt my inner foodie purring at the description of Dominic's creations. I would also presume most of you would find the development and nurturing of Daniel's career as a successful novelist to be of interest as well. The writing process, the joy and angst of having books adapted into movies, and the incorporation of an author's personal experiences into his books is something that obviously came directly from Irving's heart.

The character of Ketchum, Dominic and Daniel's life-long friend, confidant and protector, captured my heart. In fact, only towards the end did I realize that Ketchum was as much of a main protagonist as the Baciagalupos, and was the underlying soul to Irving's tale.

I had some numerous gripes as well, some minor and some major. Irving tended to repeat Dominic and Daniel's names, their full Christian names with all aliases, all the time. I wasn't sure what his point was, but it bothered me. There was also a significant amount of jumping back and forth in time, and back and forth between characters. This was extremely distracting until about 2/3 of the way through the book, when I began to notice that there was a pattern. The pattern having elements of teasing and a building of tension from time period to time period.

I also felt that the ending was contrived. I'm skirting around the details of this one because of spoilers, but Daniel's big moment at the end of the book, his big epiphany if you will, fell flat for me. It seemed that Irving reached into the grab bag of plotlines contained within the story, and plunked it down as The Answer To Happiness. I didn't buy it.

A word about the audio production: Funny thing about Arthur Morey, the narrator for Last Night in Twisted River. This is the second audio I've listened to with Morey at the microphone (first was Homer and Langely). With both books, I initially was bored with his voice...it just kind of echoed inside my brain and sounded like the teacher in Peanuts (wwwaaaah, wa wwwwah, wa wwwwah). But in both instances, he grew on me and ultimately was very comfortable with the listening experience. He's not my favorite narrator, but I'd happily listen to him again.

Thoughts from the Heathrow Literary Society: We had a most excellent discussion in our newly-formed book club. We have a wonderful mixture of old and young, chick-lit readers and some of the most well-read people I've ever met. The discussion was lively and insightful. Overall, nobody loved this book. For admirers of Irving (one man had read EVERYTHING Irving had written), this was not a good representative of Irving brilliance. It was noted that the elements present in Twisted River were the same elements that had been included in other Irving novels as well, and this was just a compilation. They had been there, done that. We all agreed the only reason this book would ever be read was because it had been written by Irving.

3 out of 5 stars






19 comments:

Julie P. said...

I have read a few Irving books and liked all of them (and even loved some of them.) Maybe it's time to try one on audio.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love your thoughts about the narrator! Sounds like he's not exactly Simon Vance! :--)

JoAnn said...

I've enjoyed the Irving books I've read, but have been hesitant to start this one. Don't think I'll put a rush on it...

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't read any Irving yet, but seem to collect his books - I think I have about 4 of them! I think I'll start with Garp as this is Twisted River is a long book to risk disappointment with.

bermudaonion said...

I'm no expert on Irving, but I've enjoyed his books that I've read, but I didn't feel any of them were totally gush worthy. I think I may just skip this one.

Zibilee said...

I have read some Irving, and like you, I wasn't really blown away. He has some pretty big fans out there, but some of his plot lines are just weird. I specifically remember a midget dressing up as a bear and performing in a defunct circus, and an incestuous relationship in The Hotel New Hampshire, and from what I understand, it's not the first or the last time Irving uses bears in his narrative. I am not sure that I would read this, but I did love The Cider House Rules, both the book and the movie. If you go any further with Irving, I would recommend that one.

Teacher/Learner said...

I felt the same way about The World According to Garp--being along for the ride. Turns out the ride was pretty terrific :) I love how he covers so much territory, rendering an entire life so completely. I'll look for this one on my next bookstore venture. Thanks for the review :)

marthalama said...

I've loved many John Irving books and have only liked some. His later work enthralled me as much. I will still probably give this a try but won't have high expectations.

Beth F said...

Like Kathy, I've not been a huge Irving fan, though I don't dislike him. I'll likely pass on this one.

The Bumbles said...

Well - if nothing else, he gives you a lot of fodder for discussion. I'm going to get to Garp one of these days.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

A shame that this didn't work out for you, but the society sounds fabulous!! A tad jealous, I am.

Stephanie said...

I really need to read something by Irving ASAP. I don't know if this will be the one I choose.

Melody said...

I haven't read a John Irving book! Don't think I'd pick this up for my first read.

Alice Teh said...

I really am not sure about this one although I loved the way you reviewed it. John Irving I've never read but I might decide to take the plunge. This book's too thick for my liking, though. I don't know. I'm weird. The more I say I won't do something, I would surprise you by doing that very thing. We'll see. Sorry for the rambling... Bottomline, I love your review (maybe more than the book itself)!

C.B. James said...

In college I wanted to be John Irving. I read everything he ever wrote, three books at that time, and read everything he published.

But the last one I read was Prayer for Owen Meaney. I really should give him another go.

I saw him interviewed for a radio program out here in California. What was your term....pantyworthy....sounds about right to me.

Jenners said...

I'm not enough of an audio listener yet to get past this kind of narrator. And it sounds like this isn't Irving's best. Was it your first one by him? I remember loving "The World According to Garp' but I read it ages ago.

Literary Feline said...

I haven't managed to read anything by Irving yet, but I do have a couple of his earlier works sitting in my TBR room. I guess it's good I won't be starting with this one. It sounds like it has its good points though.

Melissa M said...

I really want to read Irving, but I don't think this one is for me. It's too big and slow at times doens't work when my reading time is so limited.

Shaili said...

I started reading this book (haven't read any other book by Irving) but I find it slow...it's going to take me some time to finish it, i think! I keep switching to other books before finishing this one. :-/