Last Night At Twisted River by John Irving - Book Review

John Irving has been, a long as I can remember, one of my two favorite living authors. With the death of his fellow Iowa Writer's Workshop buddy Kurt Vonnegut in 2007, he became my favorite living author. That is why this review is going to be so difficult to write.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked Last Night in Twisted River ! I really liked the larger-than-life characters Irving so perfectly crafts; I loved the nonlinear time-line, a brilliant effect when you begin a section and have to readjust to where you think you are, only to realize that you’ve landed elsewhere. Very Vonnegut, like his mentor. And I always forgive Irving’s lengthy, semi-coloned sentences; I am a bad girl there too. I adore Irving’s inimitable writing. He is a true master of the pen, able to take the most implausible premise and give it legs.

The story, as Irving's always are at their heart, is simple. A young boy accidentally kills his father's lover; they flee. The story follows the boy and father through fifty years on the run. During those fifty years, trademark Irving scenarios of the seemingly mundane are made fantastical and characters involving bears, a rugged Libertarian woodsmen, a nude parachutist, and an activist who uses her vagina to make a statement form the life of the young boy and mark the father.

It would be better to blame this review on outside factors. Maybe as I have grown older, I have become impatient or maybe, as Irving has grown in stature, his editors have dropped their pens. Either way, I would have not made it to the end had it not been for the audio version. That is such a shame because I really liked the story, liked the Irving brilliance in characters, the amazement of watching Irving crafting the obscene and random into the beautiful and essential.

Also disheartening, and allowed because of his well-warranted status, was his didactic political sermonizing. Many, most, Irving novels have an anti-war or political undertone. It was always a statement in itself that Irving’s characters lived outside of the war/politic zone that made the statement so powerful. The metafiction vein (and I really like metafiction) could have worked. Irving could have thrown in little nuances about his writing life, but this too became didactic and over-reaching.

If you love Irving, and you can slog through the overgrowth of excess words and political sermon, you can still find a great story in Last Night in Twisted River. The man is surely too loyal to find a new editor, but need one he certainly does.

Recommendation: Newbies begin with Garp or Owen or Dr. Larch & Homer. They are all amazingly crafted, tight, poignant stories of the same style and spirit, without the overindulgence.

Genre: Modern Literature / Fiction. Pages: 576.
Advisory: Read from an advanced copy via Library Thing Early Reviewers
Publisher: Random House. Date: October 2009.
ISBN-13: 978-1400063840
Buy Last Night in Twisted River HERE

John Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and won an Oscar for his screenplay of his novel, The Cider House Rules. He spends his time in both Canada and Vermont, writing and wrestling (or setting free) bears. You can read more about him and his works on his website

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Wendy said...

What a well-written review of this book! I am a HUGE Irving fan...and I loved this book despite the faults you point out. I don't mind Irving's meanderings...the characters are always who delight me :) If you're interested, I reviewed the book here


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