This is a tale of tragedy, loss, love and friendship. John Irving has a knack for making the outlandish and the horrific, the extraordinary and the traumatic, seem mundane. Even the most awful moments are reduced to a matter of fact ordinariness.
I thought that the characters in Last Night At Twisted River, seemed naïve and stuck in a time frame which seemed to have more in common with the days of the wild West in the 1800’s, with its lawlessness, than the 50’s in New Hampshire. Their backwoods mentality stays with them even as they move to more cosmopolitan locations and their naivete and/or inability to fit in or anticipate the dangers of their world, seems to govern their lives.
For me all of the dysfunctional characters became more endearing as the book progressed, even as some events and coincidences become stranger and stranger. They are not lucky in love or in life, though, hard as they try. There always seemed to be a cloud of disaster following all of them. Even the short fused, illiterate, at first, Paul Bunyanesque character of Ketchum, (a logger with a mouth like trash, who insists on saying whatever he likes, in whatever manner he likes, regardless of where he is), becomes more and more lovable as he ages, although his old age does not soften him and he becomes even more recalcitrant.
The story takes place over a period of 60 + years and three generations. The meat of it pretty much begins and ends with the tale of a bear and a hand. An accidental murder propels the main characters into a world of constant fear and running, trying to escape the wrath of Carl, the constable of Twisted River. Fear of being caught forces them to relocate many times when they are accidentally discovered. They are not afraid of being caught by the law, primarily but rather by the corrupt constable from Twisted River, who is hell bent on revenge for the murder of his lover, Injun Jane, whom he has abused in the past and at first thought he had killed, in a drunken stupor. He is an abusive beast of a man who uses his extraordinary size and strength to often take the law into his own hands meting out punishment as he chooses, which basically means in Twisted River, he is the uncontested law of the land. No one wants to cross him except perhaps, Ketchum, the recalcitrant logger who is Dominick Baciagalupo and his son’s dearest friend and protector.
Dominick, a cook, is a gentle man with an identifying limp. He is devoted totally to his son Daniel who is a thoughtful, well spoken obedient young man, who accidentally kills Injun Jane whom he adores, when he is a child. He mistakes her for a bear when he catches his dad and her in a compromising situation. He has awakened from sleep and the sounds he heard, coupled with her size and massive bulk and her unusually long hair, made him panic. He hits her with a skillet, rumored to have been used to strike and frighten a bear attacking his mother, Rosie. He believes this time that it is his father under attack. That incident begins their life on the run.
Tragedy follows this family from the first. Although they keep starting over someplace new, each time they settle in, they are somehow coincidentally discovered and are forced to move on again. The peaceful life eludes them while tragedy continues to chase them.
Although it may take about 50 pages to get into the story because the initial pages are about the logging industry and can get tedious with explanations, don’t give up. As the book continues, it gets better and better and the information you are reading is necessary to the tale.
I enjoyed it and would recommend it with the caveat that it represents a decidedly biased political point of view.