Daily Archives: June 2, 2008

David Guterson’s new novel is no “Into the Wild”


Bainbridge author David Guterson mined a lifetime of memories for his latest novel, “The Other.”

Set in Seattle with forays into the Olympics and Cascades, the book follows two teenage boys as they grow into adulthood during the 1970s and take vastly different paths. The book’s narrator, Neil Countryman, graduates from the UW, teaches high school English, writes novels, and comes upon unexpected fame and fortune later in life. Sound familiar? Guterson admits Neil is nearly a mirror image of himself.

But Neil’s friend John William Barry is, in some ways, the Guterson that never happened. John William shares many of Neil’s values and his sense of right and wrong, but he takes his desire to live by his principals to an extreme, rejecting society as a whole and living the life of a hermit in the Hoh rainforest.

Like his previous novels, “The Other” gives its characters weighty questions to tackle. But this time around, Guterson allows a character to narrate. Guterson’s efforts in trying on a first-person narrative give the book a lighter, breezier feel than his previous novels. The heavy questions remain, but readers get to ponder them at a faster clip.

I talked with Guterson about the book last week and wrote a story (here) that largely deals with who John William is. Also interesting is who John William isn’t. Despite the parallels with some other well-known wilderness soul-searchers, Guterson says John William is a breed apart. I couldn’t fit this tangent of our discussion into the story, but I’ll toss out a few bits of it here.

First off, John William is no Chris McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakaur’s “Into the Wild.” Guterson was quick to make this point during our interview, perhaps in preparation for the types of comparisons the Los Angeles Times and other reviewers would make.

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