Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving’s twelfth novel, structurally shares a quite a bit with his more iconic novels, such as The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Like these earlier works the main character is a man; we are introduced to him very early in his life; a majority of the novel is set in New England; really bad stuff happens to otherwise ordinary characters; and female characters are always present and often rather two dimensional. Readers who are drawn to these aspects of Irving’s books will no doubt feel right at home with this one, after enduring Irving’s fifteen-year side trip away from this comfortable territory that began with 1994’s A Son of the Circus.
Twisted River follows a father and son on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of an unscrupulous sheriff from the North Country of New Hampshire. Unfortunately the pair seldom seems to run very far from New England, and when they do, they don’t stay away all that long. The father is an Italian-American cook; his son becomes a writer of best sellers very much in the Irving mold. This being an Irving novel, there are two things of which the reader can be certain: no one is going to die peacefully in his sleep, and Irving’s women tend to the unrealistic. This time the author has outdone himself in his choice of female characters, best exemplified by the naked amazon that parachutes into the story on two occasions, once literally and once figuratively.
For me, there seemed to be a bit less humor in this book than I would typically expect to find in an Irving book. I miss, for example, the kind of set pieces such as the Christmas play scene in Owen Meany, which was sheer comic genius.
These minor complaints aside, Irving delivers an extremely well written novel populated with interesting characters who find themselves dealing with a steady stream of improbable plot twists. In other words, Last Night in Twisted River is a John Irving novel, through and through.
The best parts of the novel, for me, are the details Irving inserts into the novel about the process of writing fiction. It is the character of the son that allows him to do this, and Irving takes full advantage here. Irving’s strength is plot, and this novel has plot in spades. I thoroughly enjoyed it on first read and recommend it highly, both to readers who are already fans of Irving’s work, and for readers who haven’t experienced an Irving novel before.
Four stars out of a possible five.