“The Other”

July 23, 2008 at 6:00 am | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment

You might recognize the name David Guterson from his 1995 masterpiece Snow Falling on Cedars.  It’s hard to imagine a better book (though in this case I would caution against the audio version, because the narrator mispronounces words, including rendering Tojo as “Toe-hoe”).  Guterson is not shy about dealing with ethical issues on a grand scale, yet his eye for fine detail and his carefully evoked characters keep the story at a human level.

The Other jumps forward in history, beginning in the mid-70s rather than in the World War II era.  The story, like Snow Falling on Cedars, is set in the Pacific Northwest, though this time it’s mainly in Portland, Oregon, where I grew up.  I can practically feel the mist in the trees as I turn the pages.  I can certainly vouch for the setting.

There is something about The Other that reminds me of Hari Kunzru’s My Revolutions.  Both stories move between flashbacks of the 1970s and what the main character is doing now.  Both have a great deal to say about contemporary materialism while exposing the somewhat over-the-top idealism of this earlier era.  Both are fairly intellectual.  Both have to do with being outside of mainstream society in some sense.  Yet I suspect that, were Guterson’s and Kunzru’s characters to meet, they would be quarreling in minutes.

The Other does not offer any easy answers.  On the contrary, it will probably leave you with questions, though about Big Issues rather than any problems with the plot.  This is, to me, an inimitable quality in a work of fiction.

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