Once again John Irving has fluently demonstrated his considerable literary merits and superb story-telling ability. Drawing on the lives of an unforgettable cast of characters, he has given us first an entertaining history of logging in the wilds of New Hampshire in the early 1950s, a subject that is to recur throughout the novel, and a remarkable description of the emergence of a writer. Combine these elements with his characters and the reader will immediately be drawn into another not-to-be-missed novel.
Angel Pope, a young Canadian from Toronto, dies in a logging accident in the first paragraph. This death will affect and haunt the central characters for the next 50 years, including Dominic Baciagalupo, a 30-year old widower, and cook in Twisted River, a remote logging camp. He is raising Daniel, his 12-year old son, just upriver from Dead Woman Dam, the spot where Daniel's mother's drowned body was found. It is a world inhabited by grotesques. Ketchum, who is in love/lust with Six-Pack Pam (her limit when she drinks), and Injun Jane, who lives with the abusive Constable Carl (who shoots first and is insanely jealous) but loves Dominic, both help in raising Daniel. Daniel's burgeoning sexuality and the sexual angst exhibited by these characters provide a recurring theme throughout the book. It is the relationships among these five adults that lead to the accident the last night in Twisted River. A 300-pound woman is mistaken for a bear and an 8-inch frying pan figures in the accident.
There are elements of the "autobiographical and not autobiographical" in this novel. In a recent conversation with Canada AM's Seamus O'Regan at the Toronto International Festival of Authors, he noted that this novel had haunted him for 20 years, and that many elements were lifted from his life. However, he said, do not read this as autobiography. ""What I think is more revealing is the things I write about that hasn't happened to me. Boy, do I write about them a lot."