I finished Irving’s latest novel this morning. I’ve read all of his books. I liked some more than others. I wonder what is biographical and what isn’t; for instance, there is always a significant role played be a bear. “Twisted River” isn’t a very linear book, but it was still well written and easy to follow and flip back and forth. Often times within a page you would be thirty or more years apart. Towards the end (I mean really at the end) I got a valuable clue about how he must write (I imagine it to be true), and that is by starting at the end. He says something about how can you write if you don’t know where you’re going.
All of his books are tragic, most with a somewhat happy ending, if perhaps bittersweet (emphasis on bitter), and this is no different. It was a lovely ending, but you find yourself wishing that it didn’t have to take so long. Three fourths or so of the way through the book, one of the characters dies and it was that kind of a part of a book where you must stop so that the emotional impact can attenuate to the point where it is safe to read on. I found the ending to be of a similar impact, only in reverse.
My main problem with the book is the obvious fact that J. Irving suffers mightily from Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS). There are snippets of BDS throughout the book that are easy enough to overlook; but, the last fifty pages are packed with BDS that have no part in the story other than a J. Irving rant in which he insults everyone who doesn’t share his liberal left wing-nut viewpoint–he’s the only smart one who “gets it;” everyone else is a stupid, fucking idiot (I think this is fairly verbatim, but I refuse to re-read it for clarification).
Bottom line is that I salute J. Irving, despite his extremist views, because he has a knack for touching the reader in that special place that mass market pulp fiction writers rarely do. This is what I admire about him, and a few other authors that readily come to mind, like Wally Lamb and the guy who wrote “Cutting for Stone,” Abraham Verghese. I only wish I could do it.