Monday, July 5, 2010

Last Night in Twisted River

John Irving

This is a big, sprawling, undisciplined seeming novel by the author of The World According to Garp, which follows the lives of a lumber camp cook and his son, a famous author of literary novels. It starts near, but at, the beginning and skips around to various parts of the central characters' lives, in no easily discernible order. It is a bit disconcerting at first.
The reason the book skips around in time like Billy Pilgrim is that, unbeknownst to the reader until very late in the book, all or part of what you are reading is actually the text of a novel being written by Daniel Baciagulpo, AKA Danny Angel, the famous writer, who is not John Irving. It is tempting to attribute this to the influence of Kurt Vonnegut.

Irving writes about writers writing in a more subtle and less obnoxious way than John Barth has done in his last forty eleven books. Irving's fictional author, at least, has a name, and a pen name, and spends an seemingly inordinate number of hours rewriting.  He is human, insecure, unsure of himself and - oh yeah - on the run from a homicidal maniac.

Some, but not the most outlandish, details in the book are similar to events in Irving's life. Both attended Philips Exeter Academy, both were students of Kurt Vonnegut at the Iowa Writers Workshop, both taught at Mount Holyoke College. I doubt that John Irving ever killed his father's Indian lover with a frying pan at the age of twelve, though.

One of the themes that runs through the book is the difference between using detail from real life and writing autobiographical novels. Neither Last Night in Twisted River nor any of the fictional fiction written by Danny Angel and described in the book is autobiographical. Both use stuff from real life, transformed into imaginary scenes with fictional characters. Danny Angel has the advantage, though because, being fictional, he has had many outlandish things happen in his life, or maybe he just made those things up. Since you may actually have been reading his novel all along, you'll never really know.

This post is in the 48th

Book Review Blog Carnival


Keywords: novel, fiction, literary fiction, John Irving


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