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No death without a life,
This review is from: East of the Mountains (Paperback)
Ben Givens is a man suffering from cancer. He knows he only has a few months to live. He is a retired heart-surgeon. As a doctor he knows exactly what to expect as his condition deteriorates.
So he decides to put an end to his life before the end that is not only inevitable but both certain and predictable in its physical evolvement.
However, he decides to do this in a rather contrived way. The aim is to make his suicide look like a hunting accident. So he carefully plans his last hunting excursion making certain that nothing will lead to any suspicions as to the real cause of his death.
Yet nothing turns out quite like he expected.
For he becomes involved in incidents which serve to remind him not only of the value of kindness of one human being to another but also of life itself. No matter how grim in fact that life may seem to a man condemned to die a slowly painful death.
His suicide trip in the guise of a hunting excursion simultaneously becomes a sojourn to the past as his mind is flooded by memories induced by two of three marijuana cigarettes given to him by a drifter, one of his acquaintances on this trip to death.
To reveal the end of the book would be to deny the reader the pleasure of following along with Ben Givens the track of his thoughts and emotions as he plans his death then suddenly loses the means to such a death and ends up trying to regain both the means and the circumstances which would help him in staging his seemingly accidental death.
Yet the book is not confined alone to this struggle towards death. Rather it is filled with reminders of how people cling on to life in spite of the dangers or obstacles they may encounter along the way.
This is the first book I have read by this author. Guterson does handle language with skill, knowledge and experience. Not, however, with any impression of effortlessness.
In fact, one does sense to an intense degree that the author not only has devoted a great amount of time on research on the factual background to the plot but also on finding the correct word on every occasion and for every description. However, the factually correct word is not always emotionally or even intellectually the right one as it may in essence interfere with the flow of the words within which it is embedded and consequently the way in which such a flow may affect the response of the reader to that particular flow of words .
Nonetheless the story is told well in spite of the way in which it is often illustrated by such overt aspects of reality in the sense of the detail profusely made available at certain points of the book. To such an extent in fact that one senses that the author is merely and possibly quite needlessly demonstrating knowledge which he has gained through his research prior to or during writing the book. In fact, even though this is a rather short book, while reading it one is sustained by a steady suspicion that it could even be shorter without any real damage to either the development of the plot or the message of the book.
Of course, some people adore detail. For detail does serve to make more real that which we all know is, in fact, not real but a work of fiction.
However, apart from this observation about how the book becomes needlessly dense at some points it remains throughout an interesting book to read.
This is mainly achieved by the way the character of Ben Givens is so solidly structured both by his placement in the present as well as his anchorage to his past.