Jan Stafford Kellis

Book Reviews and Book Shuffling

I recently read The Other by David Guterson, followed by Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. Guterson’s story takes place in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, a tale of two men and their lifelong friendship. One of the main characters is descended from bank founders and has a trust fund; he decides to live in the wilderness, shunning society and its trappings. His friend has no monetary wealth, choosing to marry a girl he meets backpacking in the Italian alps and pursuing the traditional married-with-children dream, teaching at a local university. On page three or four the reader discovers the first guy perishes in the forest and bequeaths 440 million dollars to his friend, the one person who maintained contact and helped support his cave-dwelling existence. Life choices, friendship and societal expectations are exposed and explored in this hard-to-put-down novel.

The same themes are contained in Last Night in Twisted River, a story about a father and son (Dominic and Danny) on the run after accidentally murdering the Dominic’s girlfriend. This tome, the newest by John Irving, begins in New Hampshire where Dominc struggles to raise Danny as a single parent after his wife perishes in the river. The story follows Dominic and Danny’s lives as they move from the tiny logging settlement to Boston, finding work there as a cook in an Italian restaurant. I don’t want to give too much away here, but the characters are very well-developed and they tell a complicated tale spanning several decades and three lifetimes.

The mistake I made was reading these two exceptional books back to back, when proper book shuffling could have enhanced the second one immensely. Both volumes share too many characteristics to be properly enjoyed consecutively: they are both densely written, about men and their friendships, and both take place in the north (one in the northwest and one in the northeast, but I could feel the chill in both stories).

Book shuffling refers to the practice of strategically ranking books in the order to be read so a light, fluffy book is sandwiched between two heavy, thought-provoking tomes. For more information on book shuffling and how it can enhance your enjoyment of reading, please refer to my book: Bookworms Anonymous (www.bookwormsanonymous.com).