Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

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Last Night in Twisted River Summary

Last Night in Twisted River is set in 1954. A cook named Dominic Baciagalupo works in a logging and sawmill camp in Coos County in northern New Hampshire. Dominic’s wife died ten years ago in a drowning accident.

The book opens with a young Canadian boy, Angel Pope, who drowns at the camp. A second unfortunate accident occurs when Dominic’s twelve-year-old son, Daniel, makes a terrible mistake. While Injun Jane is having sex with Dominic, Daniel kills her because he thinks she is a bear. (She also was Daniel’s babysitter, as well as Dominic’s lover.) Dominic and Daniel decide to leave town because the Constable Carl  (the local sheriff) may seek retribution for her unfortunate death. Injun was the Constable’s girlfriend.

Irving’s story spans fifty years in the lives of these two characters as they move from place to place. They take on new identities along the way to avoid being identified and arrested by Carl. Dominic and Daniel leave town accompanied by Dominic’s old friend, Ketchum, an experienced logger. Ketchum is a rich and complex character, a robust logger who swears, likes guns and loves women. He is very affectionate toward Daniel and tells him the most wondrous stories, including memories about Danny’s mother. He is hard, sharp, and “wicked tough.”  Ketchum represents the frontiersman of America, a radical libertarian who always brings a big gun to any fight. He breaks away from the world of rules and laws and sets his own path. He is the perfect guide for Dominic and Daniel.

The threesome leave Twisted River and travel to Boston to tell the mother of the logger about the drowning death of her son Angel. Dominic becomes a cook in the North End, the Italian section of Boston. He falls in love with the dead logger’s mother. They live in Boston long enough for Danny to fall in love with a woman named Carmella. Danny and Carmella are together for many years, but their love ends when Dominic and Danny learn that Constable Carl is getting close to Boston and they must move yet again.

During their travels, Dominic and Daniel go to Vermont, Toronto, Ontario, and the Midwest. Daniel enrolls at the University of Iowa Creative Writer’s Workshop and develops a successful writing career, eventually becoming a best-selling author. His novels reveal versions of stories he heard earlier in his life and the stories about that last night in Twisted River and Pope’s drowning. To protect his identity, he changes his name from Baciagalupo to Angel and goes by Danny Angel.

Dominic changes his name to Tony Angel. They continue to move around the country, first to Vermont and then to Toronto to avoid being found by Constable Carl. Even as a famous novelist, Danny is on the move, and so too is Dominic.

With his success, Danny becomes a celebrity and his relationships with women become news items; his work is scrutinized to decipher an autobiographical “scraps.” Danny frequently becomes frustrated with critics digging for autobiographical tidbits.

With the birth of Danny’s son, Joe, the reader gains insight into Danny’s fears. He seeks to protect his son from everything. His brief marriage to Katie (a woman whose multiple children help keep men from serving in Vietnam) ends in divorce. In short, he is always fearful that bad things will happen to those he loves. Terrible things do happen. Dominic (or Tony) had always told Danny that “life is full of accidents.” This is deep in Danny’s subconscious and as his process as a writer.

Danny drinks excessively, which complicates his fears and his role as a parent. His troubles and drama continue to the point where his relationships with women, his father, and his son become stories in the press. At one point, the events of his life feed his art, and they also feed the curiosity about his life, the stories, the fiction.

Last Night in Twisted River is at times about the art of writing itself. Part of the storyline includes...

(The entire section is 1,050 words.)