Magazine article The Spectator

Apples with an Interest

Magazine article The Spectator

Apples with an Interest

Article excerpt

EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS by David Guterson

Bloomsbury, 16.99, pp. 277

It was predicted that David Guterson would find it hard to follow his best-selling debut novel Snow Falling on Cedars. Not so. In East of the Mountains, he tells another, albeit duller, story just as competently, using apple orchards instead of strawberry fields as a backdrop. Guterson knows his fruit. He also knows his country. The geography of the American north-west is spread out before us, neatly catalogued. His research is equally meticulous on the geography of the human body. From heart surgery to childbirth, he methodically describes every technicality, names every drug and finds no clinical detail too small to mention in his quest for authenticity. He could scriptwrite for ER, the gritty American hospital drama.

Guterson's trick is to write books that his fictional heroes would like to read. Dr Ben Givens, the thoroughly decent, grizzled old doctor dying of colonic cancer in East of the Mountains, would be comforted, lying sleepless and sick in his bleak applepicker's cabin, by Guterson's workmanlike prose. Guterson does not go in for flights of fancy. He builds his characters and stories out of solid, accurate detail. If the book sometimes plods, it plods with purpose.

Givens has a problem to which he wishes to find a practical answer. His cancer means he has only months to live. Already his body is failing, its most basic functions a mixture of pain and humiliation. His wife of 50 years is dead, his daughter happily settled, but suicide, the obvious answer, would still be upsetting. …

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