Friday, Sep. 04, 2009

Last Night in Twisted River

John Irving (The World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules) is one of the few American novelists whom it is possible to call, without irony or qualification, "beloved." The world of his books is a strange mixture of brutality and tenderness and randomness. Irving's 12th novel begins in 1950s New Hampshire — where Irving grew up — and the plot gets under way in earnest when a boy accidentally kills a woman with a blow from an 8-in. cast-iron skillet: "Though he was only twelve, Danny Baciagalupo surely knew that the rest of his life had just begun. 'I thought she was a bear,' the boy told his dad." It's an honest mistake, but dad and boy go on the run, from the law and, in a sense, from themselves. —Lev Grossman