And so it rolls, this new John Irving novel, galumphing along like logs bumping their way down river rapids, clunkety-clunk-clunk. There's a passage of present tense here, some meta novelist-as-celebrity stuff there, a grocery list thrown in before a moment of accidental, cataclysmic violence. This structure means that it takes a while to fall wholly for Last Night in Twisted River, but if you're a fan of ambitious, chaotic, plot- and character-driven storytelling, you'll love this book.The story, told over five decades starting in 1954, centers on Dominic Baciagalupo, a logging-camp cook; his son, Daniel, who eventually becomes a writer with the pen name Danny Angel; and Dominic's best friend, Ketchum, a tough and loyal logger. Last Night's sentimental tone is established early the logging industry is struggling, and Dominic is a single father whose wife died in a tragic accident. The logging camp is idyllic in a rustic way until an incident featuring an eight-inch skillet, a bear, and a philandering sous-chef drives father and son on the lam. Their flight never ends, really the vengeful force that sends them running is implacable, and wherever Dominic and Daniel run, they can never truly settle.
Irving plays off his own biography here. Danny Angel is an author who finds that a wish bestowed by Irving's own former professor, Kurt Vonnegut, comes true (''Maybe capitalism will be kind to you''). Since he's a celebrity novelist, Danny's relationships with women, with his son, and even with his father come under the spotlight of the press, sometimes to disastrous effect. And Danny's novels include a best-seller about abortion. Given the way the book takes an elegiac look at Danny's career and life, some critics may have a field day with these parallels. But they aren't the point here. The real story is that Irving, defying the precepts of critics once again, has created another sprawling, sentimental, emotional tale, the kind that readers crave, however snooty or pedestrian their tastes. A–