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Amazon Best of the Month, June 2008: When John William Barry and Neil Countryman meet at a high school track meet in the early 1970s, they are two sides of the same coin: John is a trust-fund baby and student of a prestigious private school while Neil is solidly working class, but they share an affinity for the outdoors and apprehension over impending changes in their lives. After an unintentionally challenging week lost in the wilds of the North Cascades, John is compelled to an ascetic path: life in a remote river valley in the Olympic Peninsula rainforest, where he chips a shelter from a granite wall and immerses himself in the esoterica of Gnostic dualism--a philosophy that holds that the material world is illusional and destructive. Neil meanwhile chooses a traditional path as a father and school teacher, despite his troubled friend's exhortations to eschew "hamburger world" and find truth in a simpler, stripped-down existence. Nothing is that simple, of course, and The Other compellingly explores the compromises we make to balance meaning and security in our lives through the choices (and their subsequent consequences) of these two men. --Jon Foro --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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)
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