(This review is from 2009, but given my recent post about In One Person, I thought I would add this past review to the site.)
Dear Mr. Irving;
I just finished reading your new book, Last Night in Twisted River. I enjoy your writing style very much and your layers of storytelling have always been amazing to me. I do have to ask you something difficult, though.
I have had this hope, each time I hear of a new John Irving book being released, that THIS time I am going to be totally surprised by how and where you have taken us as readers. My only wish is for you to really break out of you Exeter/wrestling/boys&mothers box. You do this group of themes so well, and have shown that time and again. In fact, in your new novel you rail against authors who do the same thing by “writing what they know”. You can understand my confusion.
In Last Night in Twisted River, the (very)thinly veiled references to almost every book you have ever published, peppered throughout this novel, is a bit disconcerting. Along with a few badly cloaked allusions to some of your personal, real life events I am left worried your creative well is getting depleted. We readers know you KNOW this stuff ~ your comfort zone, your heart.
Please Mr. Irving, something different next time? I know you have the talent to pull off the absolutely unexpected and render the reading world gob-smacked! I still heart you and still give the novel 4 stars!
Okay, so before the book has to go back to the library, I pulled out a couple of quotes that stood out for me.
A)”Ketchum meant that someone should have killed Ralph Nader. (Gore would have beaten Bush in Florida if Nader hadn’t played the spoiler role.) Ketchum believed that Ralph Nader should be bound and gagged – “preferably, in a child’s defective car seat” – and sunk in the Androscoggin.”
Okay, this just made me laugh out loud, picturing it.
B)”Danny Angel’s fiction had been ransacked for every conceivable autobiographical scrap; his novels had been dissected and overanalyzed for whatever could be construed as the virtual memoirs hidden inside them. But what did Danny expect? In the media, real life was more important that fiction; those elements of a novel that were, at least, based on personal experience were of more interest to the general public that those pieces of the novel-writing process that were “merely” made up.”
C) “That kind of question drove Danny Angel crazy, but he expected too much from journalists; most of them lacked the imagination to believe that anything credible in a novel had been “wholly imagined.” And those former journalists who later turned to writing fiction subscribed to that tiresome Hemingway dictum of writing about what you know. What bullshit was this? Novels should be about the people you know? How many boring but deadeningly realistic novels ca be attributed to this lame and utterly uninspired advice?”
D) “Dysfunctional families; damaging sexual experiences; various losses of innocence, all leading to regret. These stories were small, domestic tragedies – none of them condemnations of society or government. In Danny Angel’s novels the villain – if there was one – was more often human nature…”
Funny how my tongue-in-cheek letter, above, can be addressed with passages from the novel. These quotations were all taken from the same time in the book, covering pages 372 through 377.