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.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times
There’s plenty of evidence of Irving’s agility as a writer in Last Night in Twisted River. He is adept at following an accident through its intricate consequences. His evocations of sounds and smells and tactile sensations, especially those provoked by Dominic’s expert cooking, are tantalizing. And some of the comic moments are among the most memorable that Irving has written, including the scene when a naked female skydiver, one of the novel’s many voluptuaries, makes an unfortunate landing smack in the middle of a pigpen. Given Irving’s skill, it’s especially frustrating to see him working so hard to spell out the import of the fiction.... In his bid to make something “serious,” Irving has risked distracting readers from what otherwise could be a moving, cohesive story.
Joanna Scott - New York Times Book Review
Everything that makes John Irving such a wonderful writer is on display in the opening section of his 12th novel, Last Night in Twisted River. And everything that makes him such a maddening one is evident in the 450 rambling pages that follow.... Ironically, the novel only soars when we read the parts that Danny has supposedly written...a haunting chapter in the middle about a pig roast interrupted by a naked sky diver, and another one later on about Danny's son. These parts are full of captivating characters, well-polished prose and heartbreak-ing insights into the joys and terrors of parenthood. But...[fictional author] Danny Baciagalupo's marvelous novel is smothered inside John Irving's dull one. If only somebody could have helped it get out and breathe.
Ron Charles - Washington Post
Irving returns with a scattershot novel, the overriding themes, locations and sensibilities of which will probably neither surprise longtime fans nor win over the uninitiated. Dominic “Cookie” Baciagalupo and his son, Danny, work the kitchen of a New Hampshire logging camp overlooking the Twisted River, whose currents claimed both Danny's mother and, as the novel opens, mysterious newcomer Angel Pope. Following an Irvingesque appearance of bears, Cookie and Danny's “world of accidents” expands, precipitating a series of adventures both literary and culinary. The ensuing 50-year slog follows the Baciagalupos from a Boston Italian restaurant to an Iowa City Chinese joint and finally a Toronto French cafe, while dovetailing clumsily with Danny's career as the distinctly Irving-like writer Danny Angel. The story's vicariousness is exacerbated by frequent changes of scene, self-conscious injections of how writers must “detach themselves” and a cast of invariably flat characters. With conflict this meandering and characters this limp, reflexive gestures come off like nostalgia and are bound to leave readers wishing Irving had detached himself even more.
Irving's new doorstopper addresses a strong theme-the role accident plays in even the most carefully planned and managed lives-but doesn't always stick to the subject. His logjam of a narrative focuses on the life and times of Danny Baciagalupo, who navigates the roiling waters of growing up alongside his widowed father Dominic, a crippled logging-camp cook employed by a company that plies its dangerous trade along the zigzag Twisted River, north of New Hampshire's Androscoggin River in Robert Frost's old neighborhood of Coos County. The story begins swiftly and compellingly in 1954, when a river accident claims the life of teenaged Canadian sawmill worker Angel Pope, whom none of his co-workers really know. Irving's characters live in a "world of accidents" whose by-products include Dominic's maiming and the death of his young wife in a mishap similar to Angel's. All is nicely done throughout the novel's assured and precisely detailed early pages. But trouble looms and symbols clash when Danny mistakenly thinks a constable's lady friend is a bear, and admirers of The Cider House Rules (1985) and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) will anticipate that Large Meanings prowl these dark woods. The narrative flattens out as we follow the Baciagalupos south to Boston, thence to Iowa (where we're treated to a lengthy account of Danny's studies, surely not unlike Irving's own, at the Iowa Writers' Workshop), and an enormity of specifics and generalizations about Danny's career as bestselling author "Danny Angel." The tale spans 50 years, and Danny's/Irving's penchant for commentary on the psyche, obligations and disappointments of the writer's life makes those years feel like centuries. Will entertain the faithful and annoy readers who think this author has already written the same novel too many times.
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