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East of the Mountains

East of the Mountains [Kindle Edition]

David Guterson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Amazon Review

David Guterson's first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, was a true ensemble piece, in which even a high-stakes murder trial seemed like a judgement passed on the community at large. In his eloquent second novel, however, the author swings dramatically in the opposite direction. East of the Mountains is the tale of a solitary, 73-year-old Seattle widower. A retired heart surgeon, Ben Givens is an old hand at turning isolation to his advantage, both professionally and personally: "When everything human was erased from existence except that narrow antiseptic window through which another's heart could be manipulated--few were adroit as Dr. Givens."

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,


“William Hootkins reads with commendable dignity… moving and uplifting.”
Sue Gaisford, Independent on Sunday, 9/5/99

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1913 KB
  • Print Length: 289 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0747545081
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks; New edition edition (1 May 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007Z4SEQQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #150,193 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful but no surprises 1 Sep 2000
By A Customer
'Snow Falling on Cedars' had a wonderful sense of place, a tight and intriguing plot, and moments of gentle romantic eroticism. It also presented a fascinating insight into a unique community and its problems. 'East of the Mountains' is a much less ambitious novel. The evocative description is still there, so is the romance, and Guterson still writes genuine detail without it ever becoming pedantic. But there is plenty missing.
This is a story of a journey and the plot is inevitably looser, but what makes this novel ultimately unsatisfying is its predictability. For example, we are reminded of the fact that Ben Givens is a heart surgeon at the outset, and repeatedly throughout the book, so when we get to the point where his comrade is shot in battle and he watches the doctor's fight to save him, we know exactly what the outcome will be and why.
The characters too are rather one-dimensional, Givens himself, his wife, the young couple, the girl he meets on the bus and the woman who takes him under her wing, are all consistently good and flawless people. Only the owner of the wolfhound pack is a 'bad guy' and he is bad consistently, even to his own family.
I found certain similarities to Proulx's 'The Shipping News' - the work contains beautiful prose, but overall there are very few surprises and little that could be considered genuine plot. At least Proulx created entertaining and original characters.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Anyone who is expecting a book similar in quality to Guterson's "Snow falling on Cedars" will be disappointed by this one. Barely more than a novella, this book follows Ben Givens, retired heart surgeon,hunter and terminally ill cancer patient, on his journey back to his East Washington roots to commit suicide.
The book is hugely readable, Guterson's writing flows elegantly (in fact it is hard to put down) and his descriptions of the Washington countryside are hugely evocative. And yet nothing happens! An old man sets out to commit suicide ... and fails; in the process of which he meets some nice and some not so nice people, a few nasty things happen to him and he delivers a baby. Then he goes home.
Perhaps I was expecting too much of this book: his first book dealt with so many different themes after all, and was as impressive as the landscape it was set it in. This one promised a lot, was easy to read but left me thinking "and so..?".
The book has to have three stars if only for its wonderful descriptions: it does not pick up any extra stars for content! I remain a Guterson fan, but hope that the wait for his next book will be more rewarding.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The plot starts off looking deceptively simple. When confronted with his mortality, Ben Givens decides to take his life in a last ditch effort to take control of his existence. The sequence of events that follow, however, force Ben to re-evaluate his future in the light of past experience which, only at this point in his life, become significant. The experiences Ben goes through in his efforts to get to the point of committing suicide are almost surreal. The sharpness of Guterson's description of his imagery make one wonder whether reality does appear this way when one is fully aware that he is dying. The beauty of this novel lies in the use of external images to enable the reader to come to an understanding of the internal terrain of Ben Givens' heart. An altogether rewarding read with pictures that continue to stay in the mind long after one has put the book down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, sensitive read - not challenging 5 Aug 1999
By A Customer
Completely different from the brilliant, but sometimes stagnant Snow Falling on Cedars. I found this book a pleasure to read. It is also a very quick read, perhaps not challenging enough but nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyable. Ben Givens, surgeon, is dying of cancer - and his focus is on the quality rather than quantity of life when faced with a terminal illness. The book concentrates on the past and present, unfortunately Gutterson's reminising of Ben's past is less strong than the detail and observations he paid to the 'present' - creating a gulf in the standard of the writing. I felt a little disappointed when the book finished - but it is, after all, a inevitable conclusion. Ever since I been addicted to roasted pumpkin seeds - the description makes your mouth water!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars East of the Mountains is a fine read! 29 Mar 2001
It is harvest time in the Columbia Basin of central Washington State where orchards droop with ripened fruit & Ben Givens, recently retired, widowered & diagnosed with cancer, heads east, over the Cascade Mountains into the still wild sage deserts for one last bird hunt with his Brittanies & his memories. A rain-slicked highway & a headlong skid into a tree changes his plans.
I thoroughly enjoyed David Guterson's writing which flows like windswept wild grasses, because I've roamed those same sagelands & I've known the same sort of world of hurt into which Ben Givens is headed.
David Guterson narrowly avoids sentimentality by allowing Ben's adventures to draw some blood, be scary enough to rouse a hero's lethargy & full enough with unexpressed loneliness, orneryness, dashes of dumb luck & mean spiritedness that kept me walking at Ben's side.
I wanted to hear more of those adventures. Having taken care of our Poppa during his last years of life, I had a very good idea just how valuable Ben's life & death will be to his daughter.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed.
I was disappointed with this novel from David Guterson. The story concerns Ben, a 73 year old doctor with terminal colon cancer, who decides on a hunting trip as backdrop for his... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Mr. E. Mccaffrey
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading
I bought this book because of Snow Falling on Cedars, and I was not disappointed. Whilst the story is totally different, the quality of writing is equally good, and it tells a... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Avril Wayte
4.0 out of 5 stars Another gripping novel from a great author.
I loved this book and would have awarded the maximum 5 stars had I not read Snow Falling on Cedars first! Guterson's first
novel was so good it's proved a hard act to follow. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Geoff
4.0 out of 5 stars Less tense than Cedars but deeper exploration of the soul
Hard to know how Guterson could match, let alone better, the novel for which he will always be known and admired - Snow Falling on Cedars. This sensibly does not try. Read more
Published on 19 Jun 2012 by Jamie Stevenson
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read
Very good book - Easy to read but well written. I think a second reading will reveal even more of the authors feelings. Bit like Grapes of Wrath meets Call of the Wild.
Published on 25 April 2010 by J. Pedgrift
4.0 out of 5 stars Slow paced and rich
I read this book because it was recommended to me by a friend from my book group, and because I loved Snow Falling on Cedars. Read more
Published on 20 April 2010 by Mrs. S. R. Wray
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable
This is the second David Guterson book I've read and was not disappointed. Truly a great read, Guterson's descriptions of both places and people are a real joy and his use of... Read more
Published on 5 Aug 2009 by John Stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars A book with hidden depths
This book seemed to be a nice well described story but somewhat slow and aimless, when it hit me in the heart in the home straight. Read more
Published on 19 Feb 2009 by Jim Voorhout
4.0 out of 5 stars Beauty in ugliness
Now I've heard that David Gutterson is quite an accomplished writer having also read raving reviews on `Snow falling on cedars', so thought this was worth a read. Read more
Published on 11 Oct 2007 by Uncle Moley
4.0 out of 5 stars This is one book I want to give to all my friends
This gem of a book is almost mythological in the way the hero sets out toward a grim destination, and in so doing encounters miracles, monsters and mayhem of the real kind. Read more
Published on 28 July 2005 by Janice Smith
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