three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-Last Night in Twisted RiverJohn Irving is the author of eleven novels, including the beloved The World According to Garp (1978), A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989), and A Widow for One Year (1998). In 1999, Irving won a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award for The Cider House Rules (1985).

The Story: In 1954, widower Dominic Baciagalupo makes a living as a cook in a northern New Hampshire logging camp. When his 12-year-old son, Danny, shoots a local police officer's girlfriend--after mistaking her for a bear--the two become fugitives. They are hotly pursued by the vengeful Constable Carl. The Baciagalupos change their name and live a nomadic existence, their only connection to the past a gruff lumberjack named Ketchum. Spanning five decades, Last Night in Twisted River chronicles Dominic and Danny's adventures as they struggle to stay one step ahead of the law.
Random House. 554 pages. $28. ISBN: 9781400063840

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Majestic yet intimate, shot with whimsy, dread and molten pathos, Twisted River compresses the panoramic scope of his midcareer legacy without diluting its brio. ... It's simultaneously every story he's ever published and something altogether new." Daniel Mallory

Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Although it never quite achieves the narrative frenzy that made Irving famous in The World According to Garp, his fans will not be disappointed. ... Last Night in Twisted River is at its best in its depiction of the long, meandering course a life can take." Stephen Amidon

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Much of the novel's charm lies in how Irving infuses it with his passion for craft and storytelling, and the details of a writer's or a chef's life. Process fascinates Irving at least as much as finished products." Floyd Skloot

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Last Night in Twisted River showcases all of John Irving's biggest liabilities as a writer: a tricked-up, gimmicky plot; cartoony characters; absurd contrivances; cheesy sentimentality; and a thoroughly preposterous ending. And yet, at the same time, it evolves into a deeply felt and often moving story--a story that with some diligent editing might have ranked right up there with The World According to Garp (1978) and A Widow for One Year (1998) as one of Mr. Irving's more powerful works." Michiko Kakutani

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"John Irving packs a lot--too much at times--into his 12th novel. But if you like sprawling family stories with sexual complications, memorable characters and reflections on writing, then Last Night in Twisted River is for you."

Oregonian 1.5 of 5 Stars
"If a story with flatulent dogs, a naked skydiver who lands in a pigpen and a 12-year-old who mistakes his father's lover for a bear sounds funny, well, it's not. If a novel crowded with people devastated by the death of a parent, a spouse or a child--especially a child--sounds like it could be emotion-stirring, well, Irving tries." John G. Rodwan Jr.

Critical Summary

Longwinded, improbable, contrived, and ridiculous. Despite these grave literary offenses, critics couldn't help but enjoy this novel about an Irving-like writer. Readers familiar with Irving's novels will recognize his penchant for melodrama, as well as his unwavering affection for bizarre secondary characters, implausible coincidences, and bears. At its core, however, Last Night in Twisted River centers on the relationship between a father and son, a familial connection that will resonate with readers. It is also a moving story about the factors that shape a young man's life and the insight that comes with time and reflection. The critic from the Oregonian refused to be charmed, calling Irving's latest "hokey" and "monotony in stereo." Still, it is a fine read for steadfast Irving fans and readers who are forewarned.