Erudite Mondays at HalfSoled Boots
Volume 5, Number 3
Seconds ago I turned the last page of David Guterson's new book, The Other. In between setting it down and picking up my laptop, I murmured, involuntarily and in a subdued voice, "Wow."
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this is a huge book. Not physically - there are only 256 pages - but thematically.
Written in the first person, this story is a complicated, delicate retrospective of a long friendship between boys who become men - boys who inhabit each other's thoughts and emotions. John William Barry is the son of prominent Seattle money, and Neil Countryman's is a family of "nail bangers" - construction workers and tradesmen. They meet at the end of a footrace in 1972, after John William defeats Neil by three-quarters of a stride, and offers his hand at the end with "heartfelt, ruddy, exclamatory" sentiment.
The next two hundred or so pages are the firelit, pot-scented chronicle of adventure and misadventure as experienced by John William and Neil. I couldn't drag myself from this book. It led me inexorably from paragraph to paragraph, greedy to discover the next turn of the wheel: to pull aside the curtain a little bit more, hoping for another glimpse at the character and history of John William, Hermit of the South Fork Hoh.
There are beautiful moments in this book. You love, and disapprove of, the two boys. You understand, and then you don't. And if you read literature with a critical eye, as I do, you can't help but admire Guterson's technique - his choice of metaphor, his light hand and deft touch. The way he often says, in this novel, "In other words". And the voice of the narrator, Neil Countryman, is consistent and honest, believable.
There is a wonderful evocative use of language - images and sounds that convey the light and shadow of life with ease and richness. I often turned a page to a new chapter, only to laugh involuntarily, or catch my breath in foreboding, as I glimpsed the heading: the first chapter is entitled "No Escape From the Unhappiness Machine". There is also "Loyal Citizen of Hamburger World" and the second-last, my favourite, "Periodic Irritable Crying".
The book is about many things. It's about the choice given us, every day, to either live in the world or be apart from it. And it's about what happens to those people who are dragged in the wake of genius, or psychosis, or fanaticism.
Stories are compelling things. Well-told, they can occupy your thoughts to obsession, making normal living impossible. Guterson is amazing in this novel. He gives away the end, right at the beginning - on page 6. You could quit reading there, if all you wanted to know was what happened. But you don't, because it's not the end that matters - it's what lies buried at the beginning, what is uncovered in the middle - and, even more importantly, why?
Before I rate this book, I'd like to encourage you to leave a comment telling me a bit about your favourite book. Not just title and author, nor even a plot synopsis - what I'd like to hear about is how it makes you feel, and why. I'm giving away a hardcover of The Other to one commenter, selected from all those who leave me a note before the next Erudite Monday.
HalfSoled Boots' Highly Specialised Book Rating System
The Other gets:
Reread? Yes. At least yearly.
Given to Others? Yes.