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.