In his fourth novel, PEN/Faulkner Award winner Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars) constructs a sensationalistic story that in other hands might have emerged as a page-turning potboiler. Here, events unfold in exquisitely refined prose, which creates a plot as believable as any quotidian workday while evoking an unforgettable sense of place in its depiction of Washington State's wilderness. Middle-aged narrator Neil Countryman, lately the recipient of an enormous and unexpected inheritance, traces the roots of this windfall back to an equally unexpected encounter at age 16 with a fellow runner on a Seattle high school track field. Bonded by a mutual love of the outdoors, working-class Neil and wealthy John William Barry become lifelong friends despite cultural disparities. The bond holds as their adult paths diverge, Neil choosing to teach while John William retreats to a hermit's life in remote woodlands. When Neil agrees to help his friend disappear, haunting questions of values, responsibility, and choice leave Neil--and the readers of this provocative fiction--to ponder the proper definition of a good life. Recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/08.]--Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Blue-collar Neil Countryman meets Seattle blue-blood John William Barry while running track. The novel opens with a lot of references to 1970s pop culture: television shows such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart, and athletes and celebrities like Steve Prefontaine, Carl Lewis, the Doobie Brothers, and Gerald Ford. Guterson describes Neil and John William's generation as "slightly late for the zeal of the sixties and slightly early for disco." He depicts a 34-year friendship that survives their many differences. It starts out with a shared love of nature, running, and hiking the Olympic Mountains. But as they mature, the men drift in different directions. As the first Countryman to attend college, Neil takes his education seriously and chooses a traditional life. In contrast, John William drops out of school, decries hypocrisy, studies philosophic thought (most notably Gnosticism), and retreats into a life in the Olympic forest, in a bit of a Thoreau-like existence. His mental state is most certainly fragile, likely inherited from his mother. But in spite of their differences, Neil honors their "blood pact," hiking in food, supplies, and companionship, and, most importantly, he honors John William's desire to keep his location a secret. The 1970s setting will hook teens in the opening, and the lyrical description of the Olympic Mountains forest will keep them reading. The biggest draw, however, will be the themes of friendship and loyalty, and how they survive through the years.-Paula Dacker, Charter Oak High School, CA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars) runs out of gas mulling the story of two friends who take divergent paths toward lives of meaning. A working-class teenager in 1972 Seattle, Neil Countryman, a "middle of the pack" kind of guy and the book's contemplative narrator, befriends trust fund kid John William Barry--passionate, obsessed with the world's hypocrisies and alarmingly prone to bouts of tears--over a shared love of the outdoors. Guterson nicely draws contrasts between the two as they grow into adulthood: Neil drifts into marriage, house, kids and a job teaching high school English, while John William pulls an Into the Wild, moving to the remote wilderness of the Olympic Mountains and burrowing into obscure Gnostic philosophy. When John William asks for a favor that will sever his ties to "the hamburger world" forever, loyal Neil has a decision to make. Guterson's prose is calm and pleasing as ever, but applied to Neil's staid personality it produces little dramatic tension. Once the contrasts between the two are set up, the novel has nowhere to go, ultimately floundering in summary and explanation. (June) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.