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Now, however, Ben has been dealt a problem entirely beyond his powers of manipulation: a diagnosis of terminal cancer. With just a few months to live, he sets out across the Cascades for a hunting trip, planning to take his own life once he reaches the high desert. A car crash en route puts an initial crimp in this suicide mission. But the ailing surgeon presses onward--and begins a simultaneous journey into the past. Between present-tense episodes, which demonstrate Ben's cranky commitment to his own extinction, we learn about his boyhood in Washington's apple country, his traumatic war experience in the Italian Alps, and the beginning of his vocation.
Guterson narrates the apple-scented idyll of Ben's childhood in a typically low-key manner--and orchards, of course, are seldom the stuff of melodrama. Still, many of his ambling sentences offer miniature lessons in patience and perception: "They rode back all day to the Columbia, traversed it on the Colockum Ferry, and at dusk came into their orchard tired, on empty stomachs, their hats tipped back, to walk the horses between the rows of trees in a silent kind of processional, and Aidan ran his hands over limbs as he passed them with his horse behind him, the limbs trembling in the wake of his passing, and on, then, to the barn." The wartime episodes, however, are less satisfactory. Clearly Guterson has done his research down to the last stray bullet, but there's a second-hand feeling to the material, which seems less a token of Ben's detachment than the author's.
There is, alas, an additional problem. Begin a story with a planned suicide, and there are exactly two possible outcomes. It would be unfair to reveal Ben's fate. But as the forces of life and death yank him one way, then another, Guterson tends to stack the deck--particularly during a bus ride toward the end of the novel, when Ben's fellow passengers appear to have wandered in from a Frank Capra film. Yet East of the Mountains remains a beautifully imagined work, in which the landscape reflects both Ben's desperation and his intermittent delight. And Guterson knows from the start what his protagonist learns in painful increments: that "a neat, uncomplicated end" doesn't exist on either side of the mountains. --James Marcus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
I love David Guterson's writing style...it is sort of quiet and subtle and sneaks up on you. i plan to get all his books eventually. very good book.Published 8 months ago by Lisa Baltich
Guterson is certainly a wonderful wordsmith, and East of the Mountains is a perfect showcase for this talent. Unfortunately, I don't think he's a natural storyteller. Read morePublished on July 26 2011 by grapemanca
Written beautifully with such a life affirming message. I could see the main character so clearly and he haunts me still. I loved this one and highly recommend it.Published on July 9 2004
I'm quite suprised by the reviews that rate this book a poor follow up to Snow Falling on Cedars. They are very different books, and East of the Mountains is intentionally more... Read morePublished on June 11 2004 by LAlovesdogs
The author of this book has wonderful literary talent. But unfortunately I found the work to be,if not downright pretentious, highly presumptuous. There was no story. Read morePublished on May 9 2004
Guterson's skills as a writer are unquestionable, as was demonstrated in his first book. However, East of the Mountains is no Snow Falling on Cedars. Read morePublished on Sept. 3 2003 by rosiet33
The premise of this novel seemed interesting and the author garnered a slew of accolades for Snow Falling on Cedars (though I haven't read that work). Read morePublished on July 17 2003
This book was my introduction to the author. It had contrived situations but the message regards how we encapsulate our lives and then regret the emptiness of our existence. Read morePublished on July 8 2003 by UnkWot