Sunday, August 01, 2010

Last Night in Twisted River

I just finished John Irving's latest novel, Last Night in Twisted River. Of mainstream writers, I've always enjoyed his work the most -- he's good, and he actually believes in plot, though they sometimes get complicated.

Bears play a strong part in his novels, as do prostitutes, Mrs. Robinson-style romances, New England, and lethal accidents. If you aren't familiar with his books, you might have seen some of the movies based on them: The World According to Garp; Hotel New Hampshire; The Cider House Rules.

This one starts with a logging accident in the 1950's and goes on until the present day, covering three generations, featuring a cook, his son, and grandson, along with some of the oddball characters Irving likes to people his books with. I find his work intriguing and always a treat.

There's an afterword in this book and I learned something I didn't know before: Irving always starts his books by coming up with the last sentence. He works backward from there, figuring out the story, and when he gets to the first sentence, then he starts the actual writing.

Never done this myself, though I did have the final scene in my first novel in mind when I sat down to do that one. Going to be a sword fight, I knew, and I was careful to hang one on the wall early in the book and point at it. Like Chekov's comment about the gun -- if you hang one on the wall in act one, it better go off before the end of act three -- I knew it was going to get used at the end.

Not that I am comparing myself to Chekov or Irving here, I'm just sayin' that's what I did.

1 comment:

Dan Moran said...

The first novel I actually finished was an alien invasion in the old west thing -- started out as a short story. I didn't know the ending, so I kept writing, figuring I'd know it when I got there.

600+ single-spaced pages later, when I finished it, I had learned a valuable lesson.