A novel by David Guterson
Set in the apple
orchard country of Eastern Washington
, Guterson tells the story of Ben, a widow
ed thoracic surgeon
recently diagnosed with colon cancer
. He sets out with his dogs to visit the land of his youth, East of the mountains, do some hunting, and kill himself with his father's shotgun. Initially alarming, Guterson takes us inside Ben's mind for what may be the last days of his life.
Guterson writes with an eye for detail that evokes not just the idea but the very presence of both the landscape of Eastern Washington, but the people as well. Near the end of the novel, when Ben meets a college student with "hair tinged green", Guterson sketches her with such life and grace that I swore I had met her on that bus.
Outside Magazine published a chapter from the middle of the book in 1999. The excerpted chapter serves as the fulcrum for the story, a pivot point that changes the rest of the book irrevocably and, though terrible to read, sets the stage for a satisfactory ending to Ben's quest.
East of the Mountains is a thought provoking, meaningful work that allowed me to reflect on not only Ben's plight, but that of my grandfather, my father and myself. The book resonates strongly with real life, partly due to the details that Guterson included in his descriptive prose, but mostly due to the thematic truth of the novel as a whole.
Unfortunately, my "literary paperback" edition had a reader's club guide in the back that included an interview with Guterson. The interview made himn seem pretentious and annoying, although that could just be because he has been tainted by Ethan Hawke through the movie version of Snow Falling on Cedars, his first novel.
I say read the book, skip the interview.