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A pleasantly engaging read for a relatively lazy week, Last Night in Twisted River encompasses the lives of a man and his son, on the run from their past, across the breadth of the United States for over five decades.
The town of Twisted River, resting on the banks of the river it was named for, is a sleepy settlement of loggers amidst saw- and- paper mills and home to the frenzied activities of the river-driving crews of Coos County in the 1950s. The lone cook, Dominic Baciagalupo, who keeps the entire population of Twisted River on its feet with his cooking, finds himself in the soup (no pun intended); his son, twelve-year-old Daniel mistakes the local constable’s girlfriend for a bear and kills her while trying to defend his father. Dropping everything, the cook and his son go on the lam trying to get as far away from the trigger-happy cop as they possibly can.
As father and son flee first to Boston, then to Vermont and finally across the border to Toronto, Ketchum, a fiercely libertarian logger – their most steadfast friend and only link to their past life in Twisted River –keeps watch as the vengeful cop sets out on his hunt for the fugitives. Over the course of five tortuous decades the cook and his son gather a semblance of a family in every place they try to settle in, before they are forced to flee every time their pursuer warms up to their trail. But constantly and fiercely watching over them, from wherever he chooses to be, is Ketchum, like a hulking, sleepless sentinel.
Replete with descriptions of the tough life of the river-drivers in virtual ghost towns in post-war and fast developing U.S.A the novel is tedious in its pace but nevertheless entertaining enough to keep the reader interested. The narrative, quite often, turns back on itself in retrospection, whisking the main characters back and forth through the timelines of their lives and quite like Twisted River the story meanders, curves back on itself and generally gives you the feeling that it’s going nowhere.
But the novel is more than just a story of two hunted fugitives; it deals with the writing process of a novelist: The main character – Daniel Baciagalupo, the cook’s son, who becomes a famous writer documents most of his life in a series of near-autobiographical fiction novels. The working style expounded in the novel closely reflects that of John Irving himself – which he confesses to in his parting note to the readers – and is a real treasure trove to anyone with an active interest in writing.
In all, Twisted River is a novel that could have done with fewer pages and a lot more twists but in the end it is well written with well-etched characters – especially that of Ketchum – and is enjoyable enough if you have the time for it.