Dr. Ben Givens, retired heart surgeon, is dying. With his beloved wife already dead and the cancer in his colon—a carefully kept secret—growing intolerably painful, he decides on a suicide that will spare his family the burden and himself the suffering of a lingering death. He will go bird hunting with his dogs, traveling from his adult home in Seattle to the Eastern Washington sageland of his youth, and there stage a fatal accident. Life intervenes. It intervenes most tellingly in a migrant worker’s trailer at the farthest point in his journey, where Givens must perform a harrowing delivery, resurrecting skills learned decades ago and never practiced. Leaving the trailer at first light, he is struck by the change wrought in the last few hours. “Things looked different now,” he realizes, and he returns home not to fight his cancer, but to endure it and to accept his death. It is an acceptance that seems fully earned because Guterson has traced its unsteady progress with extraordinary honesty, skill, and understanding.Summary HPL
A engrossing tale about how life keeps on happening, despite our plans. Like Odysseus, Ben meets strange characters on his way “home” who star in mini-episodes of the journey. Dialogue is Hemingway-style—spare and elliptical. Details are convincing, characters act in true and meaningful ways that impact Ben’s trajectory.
Guterson remains objective; no preaching here. I feel that the story could have ended differently; it seemed that to be true to his nature, Ben himself decided to remain “east of the mountains”, where the sun rises.
9 out of 10 Highly recommended to all!