EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS by David Guterson

EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS

KIRKUS REVIEW

The many admirers of Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) won’t be disappointed by this affecting, often superbly lyrical account of the final hunting trip undertaken by an elderly westerner dying of colon cancer. Echoes of Faulkner’s great story “The Bear” and even Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” resound throughout the painstakingly detailed description of the journey that 73-year-old Ben Givens plans to end with a suicide arranged to seem his accidental death. He’s a retired thoracic surgeon, recently bereft of his wife of 50 years, and a longtime resident of the Washington State wild country where he grew up on his father’s “apple farm.” Extended memory-flashbacks detail Ben’s closeness to his widowed father and elder brother (who would become a WWII casualty), and his idyllic love for sweetheart Rachel, who would serve as an army nurse in France while Ben saw combat duty in Italy, bringing away from the war years both his bride and a commitment to save lives instead of taking them. Guterson juxtaposes these memories against a sequence of experiences that challenge the moribund Ben’s resolve to die: he survives the wreck of his car and an attack by coyote-hunting wolfhounds; meets a couple who seem destined to live forever, a compassionate veterinarian, and, later, a tubercular migrant worker, then a girl enduring a dangerous childbirth—and learns that his life-giving skills remain unimpaired. The denouement feels both hurried and flat, and its ending uninspired—but it’s rescued time and again by the beauty and clarity of Guterson’s prose, a virtuosic blend of crisp declarative sentences and long, seductive, image-filled extended meditative statements. Thinly imagined but quite beautifully written—and (the nicely named) Ben Givens’s appealing integrity and compassion undoubtedly guarantee that his story will be another major popular and critical success. (First printing of 500,000; Literary Guild main selection; $500,000 ad/promo)

Pub Date: April 20th, 1999
ISBN: 0-15-100229-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1999




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