Father and Son in a Vortex of Chaos
By Michiko Kakutani
Published: New York Times, October 26, 2009
“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.
LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER
By John Irving.
554 pages. Random House.US $28.
RelatedAn Excerpt From "Last Night in Twisted River."
The novel, like so many of the author’s tales, is concerned with fathers and sons, with the fear of not being able to protect loved ones, with loss and pain and grief, and with a writer’s efforts to come to terms with these real-life perils by running them through the clattering word processor of his imagination. It deals with the emotional and psychological changes that come with the passage of time. And it is studded, annoyingly, with the same odd little leitmotifs that run through many of the author’s novels like obsessive-compulsive tics, including a flatulent dog; a severed left hand; a series of older, amorous women; and of course, a motley assortment of bears.
Spanning some five decades, this novel moves around the eastern half of America and parts of Canada with a plot that is needlessly garlanded with all sorts of gothic tinsel, pointless digressions, portentous asides and cute Vonnegut-like homilies. What seizes the reader’s attention and moves the story forward are two things: the keenly observed and affecting relationship between an appealing, melancholy cook named Dominic Baciagalupo and his 12-year-old son, Danny, and their seriocomic efforts to escape the wrath of an implacable cop known as Constable Carl, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Victor Hugo’s obsessive Inspector Javert in “Les Misérables.”
Over the years Dom’s fears for Danny give way to Danny’s fears for his father — fears that Mr. Irving persuades the reader to share, building suspense that drives the narrative over the many lumps and bumps in the story line.
Mr. Irving has always had a taste for grotesque deaths and grisly accidents described in grand Guignolesque detail, and “Twisted River” is no exception. Danny has killed his beloved baby sitter and his dad’s secret mistress, Jane, by hitting her over the head with an iron skillet, while she is having sex with his father. We’re told that Danny mistook her for a bear — a bear! — that was assaulting his father.
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