East of the Mountains

( 13 )

Overview

It is mid-October, 1997, harvest time in the Columbia Basin of central Washington state, a rich apple and pear growing region. Ben Givens, recently widowed, is a retired heart surgeon, once admired for his steadiness of hand, his precision, his endurance. He has terminal colon cancer. While Ben does not readily accept defeat, he is determined to avoid suffering rather than engage it. And so, accompanied by his two hunting dogs, he sets out through the mythic American West-sage deserts, yawning canyons, dusty ...
See more details below
Audiobook (MP3 - Unabridged)
$14.89
BN.com price
(Save 17%)$17.95 List Price
East of the Mountains

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.49
BN.com price
(Save 25%)$14.00 List Price
This digital version does not exactly match the physical book displayed here.

Overview

It is mid-October, 1997, harvest time in the Columbia Basin of central Washington state, a rich apple and pear growing region. Ben Givens, recently widowed, is a retired heart surgeon, once admired for his steadiness of hand, his precision, his endurance. He has terminal colon cancer. While Ben does not readily accept defeat, he is determined to avoid suffering rather than engage it. And so, accompanied by his two hunting dogs, he sets out through the mythic American West-sage deserts, yawning canyons, dusty ranches, vast orchards — on his last hunt.

The main issues for Ben as a doctor had been tactical and so it would be with his death. But he hadn't considered the persuasiveness of memory — the promise he made to his wife Rachel, the love of his life, during World War II. Or life's mystery. On his journey he meets a young couple who are "forever," a drifter offering left-handed advice that might lessen the pain, a veterinarian with a touch only a heart surgeon would recognize, a rancher bent on destruction, a migrant worker who tests Ben's ability to understand. And just when he thinks there is no turning back, nothing to lose that wasn't lost, his power of intervention is called upon and his very identity tested.

Full of humanity, passion, and moral honesty, East of the Mountains is a bold and beautiful novel of personal discovery.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Were there no author's name printed on East of the Mountains, fans of the bestselling Snow Falling on Cedars would know within 20 pages that this new novel is also by Pacific Northwest wunderkind David Guterson. Reverent of place, carefully detailed of character, the author's second novel -- his first book was nonfiction, and he has published a collection of stories -- is as deeply felt and minutely evoked as his first. It will likely solidify his reputation as a latter-day old-fashioned writer, the kind of novelist who lovingly and carefully introduces his characters to his readers with the understanding that given enough time, they're sure to get along.

In East of the Mountains we meet Ben Givens, a recently widowed, retired heart surgeon in his 70s. As the book opens, Ben has just has found out that he has terminal colon cancer. Since he's not the kind of guy who allows himself false hope -- he's a doctor, remember -- and even less one who allows himself to be a burden to others, Ben devises a plan. He will have a goodbye dinner with his married daughter and his adult grandson (although they think it's just a regular family meal) and then go off on a central Washington State "hunting trip" -- a trip from which, of course, he will never return. The way Dr. Ben Givens sees it, suicide is not only the most expedient solution to his problem, it's the most moral.

This is a setup that is, of course, begging to be knocked down. (I can't help but think of Alison Lurie's recent The Last Resort, in which a crotchety old man -- in that case, an eminent nature writer -- tries to off himself to spare his family the horror of watching him die.) Is it ever acceptable to kill -- even when death is imminent and the victim is oneself? Even more, when someone has devoted one's whole life to staving off death, can he ever bring himself to cause it?

Knowing what an old-fashioned moralist Guterson is -- his nonfiction book is in praise of home-schooling for kids, after all -- it's hardly surprising that his Ben Givens soon discovers he can't go through with his plan. While Ben is out in the wild, he does a lot of thinking -- much of it about his beloved wife, Rachel, who died just a little over a year before; he recalls their courtship, their lifelong passion, the promises they made to each other (none of which include an acceptance of suicide). And then, Ben meets some real, live folks -- among them a young couple in a van; a drifter who offers strange, elliptical solace; and a pregnant migrant worker who needs Ben to bring her child into the world -- who make him question whether it is yet his time to go.

Those are the bare bones of the parable, but it is the hearty meat Guterson puts on those bones that makes East of the Mountains such a satisfying read. There's a bit of everything here: a boy's wilderness adventure story (except that the boy is a grown-up man), a love story, a saga of aging and missing connections (the scenes in which Givens is offered marijuana by the young couple who pick him up hitchhiking are among the most hilarious -- and most believable -- in the book), a tale of hubris and humility. You don't necessarily like Ben at the beginning -- he's an arrogant doctor know-it-all, you think -- but as he comes to discover hidden depths in himself, you, the reader, do too. There's also a matter-of-factness to Guterson's prose that slowly becomes irresistible and, interestingly, almost poetic in its laconism; it'll be a wonder if Clint Eastwood isn't tapped to play Givens in the film version. ("So why did you change your mind?" an acquaintance asks Givens about his failure to commit suicide. "Cowardice, mainly," Clint-as-Ben will reply: "Try shooting yourself. It isn't easy.")

OK, so maybe the critics will complain that the story takes too long to begin and that once begun, it ties up just a tad too neatly; there was that criticism of Cedars, too. But Guterson has a lovely, head-on way with a description that makes whatever initial wading in you have to do worthwhile. (Try this: "Ben opened his one good eye to a still and empty October morning in a motel room in Quincy, Washington. A nimbus of light, a gray corona, formed a halo at the curtains. The heater fan made a terrible racket. The air smelled of saffron and from the bathroom the toilet sang.") And once you get to know Ben, you'll be as taken with him as are the myriad strangers he encounters on his journey from and back to himself. Guterson fans have been waiting quite a while for a worthy follow-up to the beloved megadebut that was Cedars; East of the Mountains, in more ways than one, will reward them for their patience.

—Sara Nelson

Janice Harayda
Soon everybody will be a potential client of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The longer we live — and the more we learn about the terrors of end-stage diseases — the more likely it becomes that each of us will think of committing suicide. And novelists may be gentler than juries in judging the decision to end a life.

David Guterson signals his intentions early on in East of the Mountains. Christian theology holds that at the second coming, Christ will arrive from the east, and Guterson is not a man to take his symbols lightly. While more and more novelists have been turning out glib metaphors, Guterson defied the trend in his bestselling Snow Falling on Cedars by using cedars the way writers have used them for centuries: as a symbol of strength and durability. The similarly mythic title East of the Mountains points to a second coming of hope if not of a messiah. And that is what Guterson delivers in this quietly atmospheric novel about a terminally ill doctor who undergoes a kind of rebirth amid the lush apple orchards of the Pacific Northwest.

Ben Givens, a retired Seattle heart surgeon, suffers from metastatic colon cancer and knows too well the indignities that await him, "the bedsores and bone fractures, the bacterial infection from the catheter, the fluid accumulating between his viscera that would have to be expunged through a drainage tube." He knows, too, that there is no heroism in enduring them "but only fear of pain's alternative, the cessation of everything." So he has resolved to end his life amid the remote canyons of the Columbia Basin, making it appear as though he died accidentally on a quail-hunting trip. But his plans quickly start going awry. He meets a drifter who introduces him to the palliative powers of marijuana, a young couple in love who remind him of him and his late wife, and a pack of wolfhounds that mauls one of his dogs so brutally he has to seek help for it. And all these experiences become part of an unexpected journey of self-discovery.

As Guterson tells this meditative and autumnal story, he shows once again that he has a naturalist's eye for botanical detail. But he is better at evoking plants and trees than at filling out his characters. He works hard to invest Givens' ultimate decision with inevitability, but he never quite pulls it off, because the emotional arc of his hero's life keeps disappearing into reverential descriptions of the landscape. Guterson writes so lovingly of apples that East of the Mountains might carry the American Pomological Society's seal of approval. And though there is no small art in conjuring up a memorable Winesap, this gift is a distinctly lesser one than the ability to create characters who will remain vibrant long after the day's headlines about suicide have faded.
Salon

Pico Iyer
A worthy excursion from a deeply serious and accomplished craftsman...a kind of affirmation of open-hearted faith.
Time Magazine
John Leonard
With amazing grace, this novel becomes a voyage into another kind of American manhood.
Newsday
Justin Cronin
A strikingly joyful book and a monumental achievement.
The Philadelphia Enquirer
David Bahr
East of the Mountains is a wholesome, all-American tale of war, wilderness and the will to survive—a sort of Jack London lite....Guterson weaves it all seamlessly together, in clean, sometimes fetching prose.
Time Out New York
Andrea Sachs
East of the Mountains is best read, perhaps, as a kind of firelit Steinbeck Western about how a deliberate man learns the virtues of having his plans overturned and comes to embrace a life he'd all but given up on. Some readers may find the novel a little too sweet-spirited and lacking in a strong enough sense of evil to make the triumphs of goodness seem earned. Yet as a response to best-sellerdom, the book has the bravery to strike off in a new direction.
Time Magazine
Kendra Nordin
There is no doubt of Guterson's skill as a writer and the timeliness of a novel grappling with a topic that holds national attention.
The Christian Science Monitor
Michiko Kakutani
...[O]ne man's tortured efforts to come to terms with illness and mortality....Ben's memories of...World War II, reminiscent of...Cedars, are by far the most powerful portions of this novel....visceral, uncompromising and harrowing...they remind us what this talented writer can do...
The New York Times
L.S. Klepp
[The book has] Guterson's subtle, elegiac style, infused with atmosphereic landscapes andhigh seriousness....sustained by the same consistent intelligence and moral vision [as Snow Falling on Cedars].
Entertainment Weekly
People Magazine
...Guterson's descriptions of whatever filters through Ben's mind...are impressively nuanced....lyrical images of hay fields, apple orchards and vineyards...
From The Critics
Memory...[leads] him inward to examine the forces that shaped him and his decision....Guterson's narrative moves, at times, with the insistence of a camcorder travelogue...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Widower Ben Givens, a retired heart surgeon, has colon cancer. He plans one last hunting trip to the beloved Washington State orchard country of his boyhood, just him and his dogs--at the end of which he plans to kill himself. After all, he's a man who understands "the mortality of human beings." That's the tear-jerking setup of Guterson's follow-up to Snow Falling on Cedars, his acclaimed debut novel and a big hit on audio. As Givens's simple plan goes unexpectedly awry--he crashes his car on a mountain road--he is led on an amazing soul-affirming odyssey. He is rescued by a beautiful young couple in their VW bus who ask nothing of him but his respect. Next, a journeyman hobo gives him marijuana to ease his cancer pain and, as it turns out, expand his spiritual consciousness. Alone in the woods at last, he has a life-and-death showdown with a rogue landowner. Finally, his emergency doctoring skills are called on by Mexican migrant workers. The story, with its crisp action, works well on audio, coming across foremost as an adventure. Veteran narrator Herrmann plays up the sage qualities of his hero without milking the easy pathos of the situation too heavily. Simultaneous release with the Harcourt Brace hardcover. Apr. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Jeff Giles
...[A] generous, autumnal, meticulously written book....[It has] the heart and conscience of a literary novel, and the murder mystery at its core [keeps] the plot motoring along.
Newsweek
L.S. Klepp
[The book has] Guterson's subtle, elegiac style, infused with atmosphereic landscapes andhigh seriousness....sustained by the same consistent intelligence and moral vision [as Snow Falling on Cedars].
Entertainment Weekly
Robert Sullivan
When Guterson is at his best, the story and the landscape nearly become one....The question "Why go on?" is posed...nearly as often as the landscape is described...and the answer seems to be "Because life here is so beautiful." Guterson's philosophy is so bighearted and optimistic that it doesn't really allow for existential doubts or misgivings.
The New York Times Book Review
Joyce Carol Oates
...[A] strange, unwieldy hybrid, not believable as a myth and scarcely more believable as a realistic novel. It's a sort of geriatric "On the Road," lacking Kerouac's inspired, adolescent American goofiness in its pursuit of ambitious adult themes.
The New Yorker
Kirkus Reviews
The many admirers of Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) won't be disappointed by this affecting, often superbly lyrical account of the final hunting trip undertaken by an elderly westerner dying of colon cancer.

Echoes of Faulkner's great story "The Bear" and even Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" resound throughout the painstakingly detailed description of the journey that 73-year-old Ben Givens plans to end with a suicide arranged to seem his accidental death. He's a retired thoracic surgeon, recently bereft of his wife of 50 years, and a longtime resident of the Washington State wild country where he grew up on his father's "apple farm." Extended memory-flashbacks detail Ben's closeness to his widowed father and elder brother (who would become a WWII casualty), and his idyllic love for sweetheart Rachel, who would serve as an army nurse in France while Ben saw combat duty in Italy, bringing away from the war years both his bride and a commitment to save lives instead of taking them. Guterson juxtaposes these memories against a sequence of experiences that challenge the moribund Ben's resolve to die: he survives the wreck of his car and an attack by coyote-hunting wolfhounds; meets a couple who seem destined to live forever, a compassionate veterinarian, and, later, a tubercular migrant worker, then a girl enduring a dangerous childbirth-and learns that his life-giving skills remain unimpaired. The denouement feels both hurried and flat, and its ending uninspired-but it's rescued time and again by the beauty and clarity of Guterson's prose, a virtuosic blend of crisp declarative sentences and long, seductive, image-filled extended meditative statements.

Thinly imagined but quite beautifully written-and (the nicely named) Ben Givens's appealing integrity and compassion undoubtedly guarantee that his story will be another major popular and critical success.

From the Publisher
"East of the Mountains is not about the courage it takes to die, but the courage it takes to live, and Guterson depicts this moral and spiritual struggle with a clear-eyed intensity and intelligence."—Chicago Tribune
"The writing is wonderful throughout. . . . Heartfelt, engaging and well drawn."—The Miami Herald
"Wonderfully written, tender towards its characters, and full of incident and insight."—Men's Journal
"It is a strikingly joyful book and a monumental achievement."—The Philadelphia Inquirer
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553754476
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/4/2000
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

David  Guterson

David Guterson is the author of a collection of short stories, The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind; Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense; Snow Falling on Cedars, which won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award, the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association Award, and was an international bestseller; and the national bestseller East of the Mountains.

Biography

Like many great writers before him, David Guterson draws on the rich local culture of the Pacific Northwest for inspiration in creating unforgettable characters and settings. Guterson credits many influences on his writing, beginning with his father, Murray Guterson, a distinguished criminal defense lawyer: His father's example taught him first and foremost to choose a career he would love, which also meant making positive contributions to the world.

Guterson was intrigued by the narrative of his father's cases. He often sat in on trials, but never felt the urge to become an attorney. When he started college, after one week in a creative writing class, he decided to become a writer. He eventually studied under Charles Johnson (author of Middle Passage), developing his ideas about the moral function of literature, and concluded that it is the obligation of writers to present moral questions for reflection.

As Guterson honed his writing skills, he investigated a variety of jobs that would afford him the time to practice his craft. He finally chose to become an English teacher, mainly because he wanted to surround himself with great books and authors. He moved to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, teaching at the local high school, writing short stories, and freelancing as a journalist for Sports Illustrated and Harper's magazine.

During his years as a teacher, Guterson discovered another major influence in To Kill a Mockingbird. "No other book had such an enormous impact [on me]" he has said of Harper Lee's splendid Southern classic. "I read it 20 times in 10 years and it never got old, only richer, deeper and more interesting." He admits freely to borrowing many of the novel's structural and thematic elements for his own 1994 tour de force, Snow Falling on Cedars.

Although it was not his first book (he had previously published a collection of short stories and a treatise on home schooling), there is no denying that Snow Falling on Cedars -- ten years in the making and a true labor of love -- put Guterson on the literary map. Set in 1954 on an island off the coast of Washington State, the novel tells the intertwined stories of an interracial love affair and a murder trial that divides a community still haunted by its shameful wartime past. Critics responded ecstatically, calling it "haunting" (L.A. Times), "compelling...heartstopping" (The N.Y. Times Book Review), and "luminous" (Time magazine). The book went on to win the 1995 Pen/Faulkner Award; and the following year, Guterson was named to Granta's list of Best Young American Novelists.

Far from prolific, Guterson writes slowly and with great deliberation, averaging a book every four to five years. Blessed with almost preternatural descriptive skills, he is known as a writer's writer, polishing sentences to pristine perfection and creating stories of elegiac grace. He is disarmingly candid about the difficulties of his craft, claiming that each literary endeavor brings with it a paralyzing fear of failure that slows the process even further. "It doesn't matter who you are, how many awards you've won, how popular you are, or how much critical acclaim you've had," he has said. "When it comes time to sit down and write the next book, you're deathly afraid that you're not up to the task." Fortunately for his many fans, Guterson's misgivings seem totally unfounded!

Good To Know

When he won the 1995 Pen/Faulkner award for Snow Falling on Cedars, Guterson quickly recognized the reclusive Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird for his success. He wrote to Lee asking her to come to the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., but being a highly private woman, she didn't attend.

Snow Falling on Cedars was adapted for a 1999 film of the same title, directed by Scott Hicks and starring Ethan Hawke. The movie received an Academy Award nomination for cinematography.

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 4, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Education:
      M.A., University of Washington

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


On the night he had appointed his last among the living, Dr. Ben Givens did not dream, for his sleep was restless and visited by phantoms who guarded the portal to the world of dreams by speaking relentlessly of this world. They spoke of his wife — now dead — and of his daughter, of silent canyons where he had hunted birds, of august peaks he had once ascended, of apples newly plucked from trees, and of vineyards in the foothills of the Apennines. They spoke of rows of campanino apples near Monte Della Torraccia; they spoke of cherry trees on river slopes and of pear blossoms in May sunlight. Now on the roof tiles and against his window a vast Seattle rain fell ceaselessly, as if to remind him that memories are illusions; the din of its beating against the world was in perfect harmony with his insomnia. Dr. Givens shrugged off his past to devote himself to the rain's steady cadence, but no dreams, no deliverance, came to him. Instead he only adjusted his legs — his bladder felt distressingly full — and lay tormented by the unassailable fact that he was dying — dying of colon cancer.

    Three hours before first light in the east, wide awake and in defeat, he turned on his lamp, put his feet on the floor, and felt the pain bearing down in his side that plagued him through all his waking hours. He felt it where his colon, on the left, made a turn before dropping toward his pelvic cavity; if he pressed his hand into the flesh there, it produced a sensation of irritability seeping through his abdomen. Ben Givens put his fingers against it and began the insistent, delicate caress that had of late become his habit. He plucked his glasses from the side table, fitted their stems behind his ears, and once again probed his side.

    To the west the city where he had passed his adult years lay incidental to the force of the rain, and mostly obscured by it. Eastward the rain fell hard against the hills, but higher up on the flanks of mountains it turned to snow dropping silent against glaciers, on slopes of broken talus rock, and on wind-worn buttresses and outcrops. East of the snow-covered crests of the mountains the sky lay almost clear of clouds; save for a few last spectral wisps of vapor floating beneath the chill points of stars, one's view of the heavens was unimpeded. October moonlight illuminated hay fields, vineyards, sagelands, and apple orchards, and the land lay dry and silent. On the sloping, dark verges of the Columbia River, where Ben Givens had entered the world, the apples hung heavily from fragrant trees, and the windfall fruit lay rotting in the night, gathering a pale sheen of frost.

    Ben thought of lonely canyons, of how today he would travel eastward to wander in pale, autumnal light with his dogs quartering the ground in front of him and the quail holding when the dogs went on point — and then he rose with the unsteadiness of morning, shuffled to the bathroom still rubbing his side, propped one hand against the wall above his toilet, and waited with bitter, desolate impatience for the muscles of his pelvic region to recollect how to pass night water. He reminded himself that by dusk of that day — if everything went according to his plan — he would no longer be in this world.


Dr. Givens was a heart surgeon, retired, who had specialized in bypass operations. He had been admired by other doctors for his steadiness of hand, his precision, his endurance, his powers of concentration, and his grace. His assistants knew that when the heart was isolated — when everything human was erased from existence except that narrow antiseptic window through which another's heart could be manipulated — few were as adroit as Dr. Givens.

    Now he lived in a much-contained fashion: a restrained, particular man. At seventy-three he had a thick chest and broad shoulders, though the muscles in his limbs had gone soft. Since youth he'd climbed mountains and more mountains, and hiked many miles in all seasons. He'd walked in the high country every winter and snowshoed into lonely canyons. These past nineteen months, since his wife died, he'd returned to a haunting, autumn pastime: he'd hunted birds to shoot on the wing for the first time since he was a teenager. This was a pursuit that stole his soul shortly after Rachel's death, after he'd turned from his work as a surgeon and found himself with too much idle time.

    His face was weathered and furrowed, his eyes two dark shields. His coarse gray hair looked permanently wind-tousled, and he walked a bit gingerly, with a bowlegged gait, to keep the weight from his instep. He was so tall that, without thinking about it, he ducked his head to pass through doorways. His patients, in past years, had admired his hands: precise, large, and powerful. When he palpated their chests or listened to their hearts, they were infused with his professional confidence. Dr. Givens had believed fervently in medicine and deferred only grudgingly to its limitations. He had not readily accepted defeat and had struggled with the weaknesses of his patients' hearts as if those weaknesses were an affront to him personally. In this way he had removed himself so that when patients died on the operating table he did not have to feel unduly burdened. He did not have to feel haunted. The main questions for him had been tactical; the rest, he'd felt, was all mystery, and so beyond his governance.

    None of this meant that Dr. Givens was devoid of tenderness. His heart wavered when the truth of another's lay exposed and irreparable before him. Always at work he had been aware of his divine power of intervention, and of his helplessness, too. He understood the mortality of human beings and the fallibility of their beating hearts, though these things had kept their distance from him, until his own diagnosis. Now he'd been told — it was the dark logic of the world — that he had months to live, no more. Like all physicians, he knew the truth of such a verdict; he knew full well the force of cancer and how inexorably it operated. He grasped that nothing could stop his death, no matter how hopeful he allowed himself to feel, no matter how deluded. Ben saw how his last months would be, the suffering that was inevitable, the meaningless trajectory his life would take into a meaningless grave. Better to end it now, he'd decided; better to avoid pain than engage it. Better to end his life swiftly, cleanly, and to accept that there would be no thwarting the onslaught of this disease.

    As had been his practice since the death of his wife, Ben went out to let his dogs in the house immediately after rising. There were roses growing beside their kennel — summer damasks his wife had planted — and their stalks shone in the rain. The dogs were awake when he came their way to lift the latch to their fenced-in run, the wizened Tristan staring at him where he stood at four o'clock in the morning with an umbrella tightly over his head, the two-year-old Rex leaping high against the wire mesh as if to scrabble over with his forepaws. When Ben swung the gate wide, the young dog leaped and clutched him at the waist, then ran unbounded out into the rain, leaped at nothing, and returned.

    They were brown-and-white Brittanies — Rex ran more toward a bronze hue — with fawn-colored noses, tapering muzzles, and eyes well set back in their heads. They were both broad and strong in the hindquarters, and had little feathering at the legs. Tristan, in another time, had been boundlessly energetic; he'd had the habit of pursuing birds with earnest, exuberant good intentions. Now, in his later years, he was increasingly deliberate, more reluctant to plunge into thorns, and generally stayed closer to hand. His tendency to range had been quieted.

    When the dogs were coaxed in out of the rain, Ben fed them in the kitchen. He poured a tumbler half full with prune juice — constipation was one of his symptoms — then swallowed two capsules of Docusate sodium and set his tea water to boil. He was accustomed to reading a newspaper over breakfast, but at this hour the boy who brought it around was no doubt blithely sleeping. Ben laid out melba toast, orange marmalade, two small bags of lemon tea, and a jar of applesauce. He arranged a small plate, a knife and spoon, a bowl, and a cup and saucer. When the water boiled, he filled his thermos, then draped a tea bag over its lip to steep while he attended to breakfast. Despite his contest with sleeplessness, he felt keen of mind on this morning, as well as a calm, compelling urge to establish domestic order. There was a protocol to the day that would be pleasurable to follow, in spite of everything.

    The dogs lay easily at his feet while he ate and were still there when he pushed his bowl away, gently rubbed his tender side, and sipped his lemon tea. Both of them rose at the same moment he did and followed him soberly into the bedroom, where he took his gun case from the corner of the closet and slid his shotgun free. At this the dogs froze and looked at him with uncertain curiosity.

    Ben sighted down the barrels once, flicked the safety on and off, and broke the gun so as to hold it to the light and inspect the condition of the bores. It had once been his father's shotgun, a Winchester 21 side-by-side, choked for quail and chukars. It dropped an inch and a half at the comb, which was, as it turned out, right for Ben, but the length of pull that had worked for his father had not been entirely comfortable and Ben had added two inches to the stock butt. His father took him when he was eight years old to shoot mourning doves at the edge of the apple orchards. The doves flew up from the Columbia to feed, very swift and flocking wildly in the pale light of morning. Ben's father did not broach the subject of hunting's moral perplexity. He only showed Ben how to establish his lead, how to swing through smoothly and easily. Ben's mother, on the other hand, did not approve of bird hunting, and had made her sentiments known to them. Food for the table was necessary, she maintained, but pleasure in killing small birds on the wing was reprehensible in the eyes of God. Ben killed three mourning doves that day and watched them fall at the report of the .410 his father had placed in his hands. He buried their viscera, wings, and heads in a small hole in the ground. Their breast meat was dark and small in the flying pan, dusted with salted flour. He ate the meat with vague regret while his mother watched in silence from the sink, until after awhile she came near to touch his cheek. Then she went to the sink again and scrubbed the pan for him.

    Now, in the bedroom, the Winchester in hand, Ben snapped the action closed. He shouldered the gun and swung it along the picture molding, and with his forefinger lightly against the front trigger he squeezed off a silent shot at the seam where the wall met another wall. Rex pranced, high-stepping.

    Then Ben set the gun butt against his bed and wrapped his lips around both barrels, as though to fellate them. In this posture he ascertained that in fact the front trigger was just in reach; he had only to extend the full length of one arm, which pushed the sight bead against his palate. If he seized the shotgun in this way, wholly willing, embracing it, allowing the metal to prod his mouth, he could blow the top of his skull off without logistical difficulties. The knowledge that this was indeed possible, that such an act was not out of reach, suffused Dr. Givens with a glandular fear that washed through him like a wave.

    Ben put the gun down and packed for his journey with the same judicious deliberation that had been his foremost professional trait: he weighed everything at immoderate length, but made few errors in judgment. He packed his duffel with his upland vest, a box of twenty-five number 8 shells, his shooting gloves, his shotgun sling, a canvas cap with a canted brim, and a whistle hung from a lanyard. He loaded his rucksack with a headlamp and battery pack, maps of Chelan and Douglas Counties, an altimeter, a compass, an aluminum cup, three paraffin fire starters, a roll of waterproof adhesive tape, a medical kit, a needle and thread, an entrenching tool, a folding camp saw, a rain poncho, a length of Manila cord, a pair of field glasses, a vial of lip balm, a tube of sunscreen, prescription sunglasses in their case, a cigarette lighter, insect repellent, a snap box of water-purifying tablets, and a sandwich bag full of toilet paper.

    In the kitchen he filled his two water bottles, closed the thermos of tea securely, and turned all three on their heads briefly to check for leaks around the cap seals. He wiped them dry, wiped the table, and washed the breakfast dishes. He had hoped to move his bowels before leaving — the first hour in the car would stop them up firmly, sealing them closed for the length of the day — but he knew there would be no success to the enterprise should he endeavor to sit and wait on the toilet. That would swell his incipient hemorrhoids and encourage the frustration incited in his stomach when he could not void his bowels. Ben was sorry that at the heart of things this day he would carry the sensation of a poisoning fullness and a heavy reminder that he himself was now a blight on the world.

    He had taken much of the previous night to page through photograph albums, to read his files of correspondence, and to hold in his hand the earrings and lockets his wife, Rachel, had worn. He had found, in a box, a jar of her sewing buttons, a bulbous-head lavender wand laced with ribbon, a pair of her shoes, a pack of foxglove seeds, and a sketch pad less than a quarter filled with her pencil drawings of trees. He had unzipped the garment bag in the storage room closet and, yielding to sentimentality, burrowed his face into the dresses there in order to retrieve the faint smell of her. He had done like things all evening long and so had found in the endpages of books his mother's neatly fountain-penned signature, and in a hinged cedar box his father's pocket watch, its face glass missing for fifty years. After midnight he came across photos long forgotten, at the bottom of a box, most of Renee, his daughter.

    There were photos of him, too. He hadn't been handsome, but he'd been strong and tall, blue-eyed like his mother, lean-jawed like his father. There were photos taken in apple orchards, on the summits of peaks, in uniform, on leave in the mountains of northern Italy.

    Now it was morning of the next day. And Ben could not bring himself to extinguish the kitchen light and turn away quite yet. He listened to the hum of the refrigerator and remembered how Rachel had habitually commented on the taste of things they ate together — Jerusalem artichokes dug from the ground, or apples at their sugared prime. He remembered her, too, slicing carrots with a paring knife, the ball of her thumb a stop. Ben shook off his memories, turned out the light, and called the dogs from the living room. It was time to go away from there. It was time to begin his journey.


Dr. Givens kept in his garage a 1969 International Scout, which he used as an adjunct to his sporting life. He had purchased it new twenty-eight years before, and although since then he'd bought and sold other cars, he had not been able to part with the Scout for reasons he could not readily give voice to. He was not a man who fell in love with cars or spoke of them in endearing terms; nevertheless, he felt for this one a certain enduring fondness. The Scout was modestly well-preserved, but idiosyncratic in keeping with its age, with the tics and uncertainties of passing time. It included a four-wheel transfer case and locking hubs one turned by hand after coming to a halt on the road verge. Its heater fan made a hollow din, and through the moldings where the doors met the windshield — the car's top could be removed in good weather — the wind whistled tonelessly. More disconcerting was that the driver's side window regulator had developed with time a modicum of play: the pane chattered at high speeds and irritated Ben deeply. Twice in three years he had taken the door apart and peeled back the plastic vapor shield in an effort to address the problem. To no avail, however. The play in the regulator was fundamentally ambiguous, or perhaps organic to the entire apparatus, which was deteriorating in all its particulars.

    He slid his shotgun across the backseat and set his rucksack and duffel next to it. Then he slung down the rear door and entreated his dogs to load up, urging them to leap against their will. As it turned out, he had to lift Tristan in, because there was no room for a running start.

    He opened his garage door to the beating rain, but then it occurred to him he had not made certain that the house was left in proper order — the home of a man who intended to return at the end of an ordinary bird-hunting trip — and he went inside once more. He moved methodically from room to room, until he felt secure in his impression that nothing could prompt a postmortem inquiry, going so far as to leave on the kitchen table the 12-volt bird plucker he'd sent away for last Christmas but never used. He also pulled from a wall cabinet a small file-card recipe box and turned the recipe for quail on toast loosely on the diagonal. He left the box standing on the counter beside the sink with its hinged lid open.

    This strategy had possibilities, he realized, so he programmed his VCR to record a show called Great Railway Journeys playing on public television, and turned back a copy of Scientific American — a Christmas gift from Renee, his daughter — which he placed on his bedside table. He wished he had reserved some bills unpaid to leave behind on top of his dresser: he might have arranged them artfully to appear artlessly strewn.

    He had visited his family the evening before, eaten dinner with Renee and Chris, his grandson, in the pretense that everything was ordinary, but in fact to service his end-game ruse. He was going over the mountains, he'd said, to hunt for quail in willow canyons, he had no particular canyons in mind, he intended to return on Thursday evening, though possibly, if the hunting was good, he would return on Friday or Saturday. The lie was open-ended so that his family wouldn't start worrying until he'd been dead for as long as a week — so none would miss or seek him where he rotted silently in the sage. Ben imagined how it might be otherwise, his cancer a pestilent force in their lives, or a pall descending over them like ice, just as they'd begun to emerge from the pall of Rachel's death. The last thing they needed was for Ben to tell them of his terminal colon cancer.

    He sat at Renee's table with a fork in his hand, admiring her durable, quiet beauty — at fifty she was slender, thoroughly gray, aging in a poignant, tender way — and taking note of Chris's forearms, which were vein-cabled, thickly corded. He asked after his granddaughter, Emma, who had married a man from Wellington, New Zealand, and was rarely seen in Seattle anymore; he asked after Renee's husband, John, who was on a business trip. Ben urged Renee to talk about her work — she wrote screenplays for children's movies and had penned two highly respected scripts — but she was, as usual, reticent about it out of a native modesty and preferred to deflect the conversation toward Chris, who had embarked on his third year of medical school. He'd begun his clinics, he told Ben. He was seeing patients for the first time, but only for the purpose of asking questions and to practice diagnosis: he found it more interesting than labs. "What about a climb?" he asked out of nowhere. "We haven't gone since August."

    "Well, I don't know," answered Ben.

    "What about Silver Peak?" insisted his grandson. "Up in the pass. A shakedown cruise. A tune-up run. A day hike."

    "I don't know if I can do it anymore. My legs are beginning to wobble."

    Chris held a piece of bread in his hand. "What are you talking about?" he demanded. "You're still the toughest old goat in the mountains. Don't start talking like that."

    "I'm not the toughest goat in the mountains. That's you, Chris."

    "Silver Peak," said his grandson.

    They'd climbed together for fifteen years. Chris had been with him on fifty summits. They'd taken lunch on mountaintops, sprawled back easily on their elbows, peaks spread out before them. The boy was strong and confronted his climbs with an admirable good cheer. Ben enjoyed his company. Early he'd taken the boy to the mountains, but of late the boy took him.

    "All right, Silver Peak," Ben said, and it was this lie he found most disturbing now, as he stood in his bedroom arranging more lies. "We'll go up there when I get home."

    Ben decided he hadn't packed to produce the illusion he wanted. If this was at least a six-day hunting trip, beginning on a Saturday and ending on a Thursday, his outfit would certainly include more clothing, and so he gathered more together — socks, shirts, long underwear, and a worn pair of canvas-faced brush pants. In the bathroom he made up a full toilet kit, including a tube of hemorrhoid cream, a bottle of aspirin, his second pair of glasses, and his bottle of calcium gluconate pills for easing leg cramps at night.

    The truth was that at the end of this day of hunting, he intended to set his dogs free on the sagelands, hang himself up between strands of barbed wire — as if he'd been making a low fence crossing — and shoot himself in the carotid artery: shoot himself in the neck. Only his doctor, Bill Ward, would suspect the truth, but even Bill wouldn't feel certain about it, given all the evidence to the contrary, and anyway he wouldn't want to hurt anyone by suggesting that Ben had committed suicide. For Bill, Ben knew, there was a protocol about such matters, a principle governing them. Unless obliged by a coroner's inquest or an insurance agent's inquiry, Bill Ward would keep Ben's cancer to himself.

    Pausing in his bathroom, staring in the mirror, Ben recollected his pact with Rachel on the train from Mantua to Bressanone: that the ashes that were the remains of them both would someday make a bed for roses — his for a red rose, hers for a white: the two to grow and intertwine with the passing of many years. It had been the foolish desire of romantics, the sentimental vow of young lovers. It had been the sort of thing young people wish for in their recklessness and passion. He and Rachel, on growing older, had been amused by the idea of these roses, but had not let go of them, either. And he prayed now, thinking of her, that their pact might yet be consummated. He'd preserved her ashes in such a hope.

    But perhaps the price of his suicide was that such a thing couldn't happen, and he imagined his bones bleached to dust in the sagelands, scattered about by coyotes. He imagined, too, that his dogs might wander into hunger, hardship, death. He hoped they would somehow fend for themselves and find their way to another hunter, yet he still felt he owed them more than to abandon them in that expanse of empty canyons. His last meal, too, he understood — the breast of a quail, spit-cooked on a fire — would go to nurture nothing but the worms and maggots feeding on a dead man.


When he returned, Rex had jumped across the car seat and had his forepaws over the rucksack. Ben had to prod against his haunches in an effort to force him rearward, Rex resisting stubbornly until Ben caught him at the throat. He spoke frankly to the dog about his behavior, then turned the Scout's engine over. As always it expired momentarily and required a half dozen strokes of the accelerator before the choke sustained itself.

    Briefly, he sat idling in front of his house — a half-timbered Tudor, modest in scale — where the telephone answering machine was on, the heat set at fifty-five degrees, and the timers on the lamps in the living room and bedroom set at five and ten P.M., respectively. The rain beat hard so that the house seemed shrouded, beleaguered, and somehow reduced. A neighbor had been solicited to collect the daily newspapers and mail and to move the garbage out to the curb by eight A.M. Tuesday morning. Ben noted, to his satisfaction, that all had been left in proper order. He'd made his arrangements carefully, seeing that every detail was covered. To the last he'd attended to particulars.

    Working himself into a seizure of purpose, Ben drove away without looking back at his home of forty-three years. The rain rattled off the car roof, fell in long streaks through the arcs of streetlamps, and ran torrentially in the gutters. He could not see more than a few yards in front of him, even with the wipers barreling at full speed. Through the glass the streets he passed along seemed only half real, half formed. He leaned forward, squinting a little, switched on the defroster and made an adjustment to the heat lever. It was shy of six o'clock on a Saturday morning; no one else was on the road just yet. No other travelers, just Ben.

    On the interstate he poured a cup of lemon tea, steadying it before him on the dashboard so that it shed a crescent of steam against the windshield, and settled back in his seat. There was the high smell of dogs in the car, the sharp odor of their animal digestive tracts, the rain evaporating from their rank fur. There were whitecaps southward on Lake Washington as he crossed the wind-wracked floating bridge. To the north the water was a black expanse, and on the east side, beyond Mercer Island, loomed half-built exit ramps dressed in skins of intricate concrete pouring forms. The wind tore tired leaves from the alders and blew them onto the freeway. The long shore of Lake Sammamish, once a place of marsh and cattails, now lay throttled by condominiums, their yard lamps bathing the valley. At Issaquah, there were more lights: a Triple X Root Beer, a Texaco gas station, a Dairy Queen, Boehm's Candies. Then the last of the suburbs dropped away, and he was climbing the grade above Issaquah Creek beneath the rain-embattled trees.

    A tractor-trailer roared past on the right, and a sudden slap of road water, lashed from its tires, washed across his windshield. He could not make out the borders of the lanes or much beyond the rain in his headlights, as white as sleet and flashing rapidly like small electric sparks. Another truck passed, and then there was no one, and Ben took a sip from his lemon tea and fell into fretful meditation.

    His cancer had metastasized, traveling from the mucosa of his colon to the lymph nodes close to his tumor, and from there to sites in his liver. Each day he fortified himself once again to accept this intractable state of affairs; each day he started over. He was, he knew, incurable; he had seen too much in his years as a doctor to delude himself that things were otherwise. He knew exactly what to expect and could not turn away from meeting. After the bedsores and bone fractures, the bacterial infection from the catheter, the fluid accumulating between his viscera that would have to be expunged through a drainage tube; after the copious vomiting, the dehydration and lassitude, the cracked lips, dry mouth, tube feedings, and short breath, the dysphagia, pneumonia, and feverishness, the baldness and endgame sensation of strangling; after he had shrunk to eighty-five pounds and was gasping his last in a nursing-home bed — only at that point would Bill Ward put him down under a drip of death-inducing morphine. That was how his life would end if he did not end it first.

    He was well aware of countervailing arguments, but these, he saw now, had been forwarded by people not yet confronted by death. He, too, had articulated at times the consolations of a gradual dying: how the trivial paled in the face of death, yet the veins in the tree leaves and the evening slant of light were brought to the forefront of existence. How all was intensified, heightened, compressed, vivified, transformed, appreciated. How love deepened and ordinary tribulations sank into insignificance. How one had time for a summing up, days on which to meditate in search of a divine composure. Yet what had he really known of these matters even as soothing words about them flowed easily from his mouth? What had he fathomed of dying? Ben knew there were regions of pain so bleak they could not be traveled without surgery to sever nerves in the spinal cord. There were regions of pain so terrible, they obliterated all argument. The cancer-ridden, often, preferred to die as the only antidote to their suffering. Such was predominantly the case at the end; such might be the case for him, too.

    It did not seem to him cowardly to want to avoid pain. He had seen enough of it in his seventy-three years to understand its indifference to character, temperament, or virtue. There was no real bravery in enduring it, but only fear of pain's alternative, the cessation of everything.

    The biology of the body, which he'd confronted every day, had not in the least taught Dr. Givens to disbelieve in God. On the contrary, he had seen that the body was divine, and he had witnessed the ceasing of its processes often enough to know that something holy left the body at the very moment of death.

    It was sometimes possible — the perception came and went — to view the imminence of his own end with a calm, fearless detachment. In his grave he would experience nothing, the condition of death would not be painful, it was nothing, a kind of sleep. The problem, then, wasn't death but dying, and if the trial of dying could be got through — like any horrifying or painful ordeal — death, the other side, would be endurable. And so the best one could do, it seemed, was to remove the pain and horror from the process by choosing an intelligent suicide. A course well thought out, rational, the least of many possible evils. The worst of it was his present melancholy, and the illusion that after his end came, he would experience an eternal regret. In this nether-life he now endured, he experienced regret already. He felt no longer a part of the world. Everything reeked of the grave.


The rain fell even harder over Tiger Mountain, and by the time he had crossed the Raging River, he had slowed to fifty miles an hour. He passed Echo Lake and Rattlesnake Peak, and in the darkness of morning the hills all around — or what he could see of them through the veil of rain — were a bare shade darker than the sky. The faint first light from out of the east made the crests of the hills just distinguishable from the heavens, and as he traveled down the long grade to North Bend, the profile of Mount Si became visible. Ben had scaled it three dozen times, mostly to test his strength and endurance before more difficult ascents. Its abrupt black fault-scarp seemed to rise up directly from the lights of North Bend's main street, and the promontory of its summit — the Haystack, it was called — appeared forbidding against the sky.

    The highway began to climb in earnest, following the south fork of the Snoqualmie River, past Harmon Heights, Cedar Butte, Grouse Ridge, and the low summit of Mount Washington. Here the trucks worked around one another and the wind whistled through the window moldings. Ben passed the cutoff to McClellan Butte — another promontory he had climbed often — and the Tinkham Road cutoff where in the growing light he could see the river steaming. The rain was pummeling the flats along its bank and melding into its currents. Power lines traveled over the hills. As the light of morning grew more expansive, the mist tucked low in the valleys was revealed, and the first snow dusting the high couloirs. It occurred to Ben to follow his present heart and on the spur of the moment change everything, hike in the rain to the summit of Silver Peak, and there simply lie on the crest of the Cascades and wait for the end to come. The plan had a soothing elegance, and the prospect of succumbing to a hypothermic torpor was not really so dreadful. It was less like taking one's life than allowing it to be taken. One just stopped living, that was all.

    The mountains beckoned in this way, the green wet flanks of mountains breaking out into windswept scree and snow. Ben shrugged them off and continued on his way. He was bent on crossing into the country beyond. He had been born in the cradle of apple orchards, and it was this world he wanted to return to.

    Past Humpback Mountain the road turned north and began to climb more steeply. A trio of haul trucks, convoy-fashion, took the grade at thirty miles an hour in the far right-hand lane. The darkness had mostly given way to the low gray light of early morning, and Ben could see red huckleberry brush and vine maples on the hillsides. Everything glistened and swam with rain, and the creeks plashing down their deep-cut ravines were white and fast with it. The Scout seemed to float for sudden interludes, as if riding weightlessly on shallow surf — there was the spatter of water beneath the wheels and the sense of being unmoored from the earth — and then it would seize the road again. And there were the headlights of a car behind him now, and the taillights of two cars in front of him, shimmering beyond his windshield. Ben slowed to forty miles an hour and leaned tautly forward. The rain, the wet pavement, the trucks to his right, the windows around him fogged with the breath of dogs — the moment was so fraught with dangers that when Rex hurled suddenly over the seat to settle his forepaws again on the rucksack, Ben felt a surge of anger. The dog had to learn his place in things, as Tristan before him had. He had to understand how it was.

    Ben spoke beseechingly at first, then with urgent command in his voice, then with the low melody of gentle threat. When nothing happened — Rex did not move — Ben took him firmly by the collar. "Get back there," he said between clenched teeth, exerting himself to pull the dog off the rucksack, but Rex only whimpered and held his ground.

    Ben anchored himself against the Scout's steering wheel and tried to dislodge his dog. Half-turned in his seat, his hand behind him and locked at the dog's throat, he did not have time to correct or control matters when the Scout began to slide toward the median. He let go of the dog and swiveled forward, the car skating silently and as if in slow motion, and clutched the steering wheel. The Scout struck the concrete road barrier and rebounded across all four eastbound lanes, sliding miraculously between two haul trucks and down the summit exit ramp, where it slammed into a small fir tree.

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, April 28th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed David Guterson to discuss EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS.


Moderator: Welcome, David Guterson! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening to chat about your new novel, EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS. How are you doing tonight?

David Guterson: Feeling good. I'm in Denver. I'm on a book tour and this is my fifth stop. I have a reading to give tonight at Tattered Cover bookstore.


Jonathan from Sag Harbor: Hello. The photo on the front cover of EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS looks exactly how I would imagine the Pacific Northwest to look. What is the landscape of?

David Guterson: That's an interesting observation, because most people would associate the Pacific Northwest with the image of my last book, SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS. The cover of the new book is suggestive of the mythic American West and probably not as familiar to readers as the image they think of when they think of Washington State.


Danielle from Long Island: SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS was an amazing book, and I am looking forward to reading this new novel. Did all of the acclaim for your first novel create any pressure to "perform" with this novel?

David Guterson: Well, I'm sure that for the rest of my writing life I'll be writing in the shadow of SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS. That's unavoidable. You can't have a book as successful as that one without all of your future books being compared to it.


Nancy from Arlington, VA: What did you have in mind first when you were coming up with the story for EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS -- Ben's character, the pact between Ben and his wife, the wolfhounds? Just curious what started this story for you.

David Guterson: It's always the case with me that the story begins with theme. I engaged in an act of self-reflection in an attempt to discover what it is I have to write about. I'm in search of an abstraction -- some aspect of the human condition I must confront. Once I know what that is, I add a sense of place. So, initially I come to grips with theme, add the element of landscape, and only thereafter do I begin to ponder character and plot.


Susan from Oklahoma: Bravo! How wonderful that an author takes time with characters and descriptions! I like to take time to savor a book when I read, and yours are worth savoring. Thank you.

David Guterson: That's a nice compliment. I appreciate your taking the time to communicate with me.


Grace from Davidson, NC: Hello. Great piece on you this Sunday on "CBS News Sunday Morning." How much research did you do to write this book and flesh out Ben's character and dilemma? Did you walk in Ben's shoes, hunting chukars?

David Guterson: I did an enormous amount of research. I spent a considerable amount of time in the orchard country of central Washington, picking fruit, wandering through orchards, hunting small birds over my own Brittany spaniel, spending time in all of the places that are referred to in the book. I went to Italy to visit the battle sites of the 10th Mountain Division and interviewed 10th Mountain veterans. In short, my research was extensive.


Teresa Mertens from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Firstly, I would like to thank you for your beautiful writing, Mr. Guterson. As a Spokane, Washington, native transplanted to Saudi Arabia, I absolutely love the way you bring me back home to the luscious forests of our land with your writing. Secondly, did you submit any or all of your works with or without an agent? Do you have any advice for new novelists who love writing, but don't quite know how to get started after the novel is done? Thank you.

David Guterson: My first book was a collection of short stories called THE COUNTRY AHEAD OF US, THE COUNTRY BEHIND. I simply gathered together 10 of the 70 or 80 short stories I had written, put them in an envelope, and sent them rather arbitrarily to a publisher, the Atlantic Monthly Press. The editor said no and sent the ten stories back, at which point I sent them to a second publisher, Harper and Row. Harper and Row accepted the stories for publication in book form and that was that. I don't know any other way to do it, and I doubt that there is any secret. The important thing is to put work in front of an editor that is so beautifully done that they can't turn away from it and feel compelled to publish it.


Niki from Niki_palek@yahoo.com: I found the World War II battle scenes the best passages of this novel. What triggered such stunning scenes? Did you research those scenes?

David Guterson: Well, I interviewed 10th Mountain veterans extensively, I read widely in the literature of the 10th Mountain Division. I visited battle sites in Italy and gathered as much in the way of notes, impressions, and details as I could. Added the element of imagination, tried to put myself there, and did the best I could. It was a very difficult challenge because writing about war is inherently a daunting task.


Critter from Home: How is your book tour going? What passages from EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS are you reading at events, and why have you selected these passages?

David Guterson: The book tour is going well. Large audiences are showing up at the bookstores and I've been able to keep myself at an even keel through it all. To digress momentarily, I've learned after doing a considerable amount of travel the last couple of years how important it is to marshal your energies, to get enough sleep, to maintain silence when you have the opportunity, and to save your strength for when you need it most.

I've been reading from Chapter 4 of EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS, which is a section in which my protagonist recollects his youth. I chose that particular section for a practical reason because it hangs together as narrative, as a story in miniature. It has a beginning, middle, and end, and therefore offers listeners some satisfaction.


Christian from Hamilton, NY: A main character's odyssey has a rich tradition in literature and narrative. What inspired you about the "epic journey"? Are you paying homage to that tradition in EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS?

David Guterson: Absolutely. I was very aware of working in what is probably the oldest literary genre on the planet. I wanted to honor its conventions as well as extend them. In the conventional mythic-journey story, the protagonist is quite young and the landscape is exotic and distant in time and space. In my book, the protagonist is quite old and the landscape is the real world of America at the tail end of the 20th century. It was interesting -- and challenging -- for me to reverse these two major conventions of the mythic-journey genre.


Bernice from Philadelphia: What type of feedback/reaction did you receive from the Japanese community regarding SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS?

David Guterson: Uniformly positive. Japanese-American readers seemed happy that this story had been told and that this shameful episode in our nation's history -- the internment of Japanese-American citizens -- had been brought to the attention of contemporary Americans in a forceful way.


Clare from Hoboken: I enjoyed the conversation Ben had in the bus with the college girl Catherine about anthroposophy -- it seemed to be some sort of a turning point in EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS. Do anthroposophy and Steiner mean something personal to you?

David Guterson: No. The answer is no. I didn't know much about anthroposophy before writing the book. But what I did know about it suggested to me that it was perhaps appropriate at this juncture in the novel. I was glad to have the chance to incorporate it into the narrative.


Linda from San Francisco: Which authors, past or present, are your favorites?

David Guterson: That's always changing as I discover new writers or reread writers I've neglected or forgotten about. Recently I've discovered the great Portuguese writer José Saramago. Saramago won the Nobel Prize last year and thoroughly deserved it. He is one of the great writers of our time. Strangely reminiscent of both Kafka and Gabriel García Márquez. I really admire him.


Kelly from San Francisco: I recently read a review of EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS. Do you read the reviews of your novels, and if so, how do they affect you?

David Guterson: Well, I was in San Francisco yesterday myself and read the review in the Chronicle. I do read the reviews of my work, but whether they are negative or positive, I try not to give them too much weight in my emotional life. I generally read reviews once or twice and them put them away and forget about them.


Tobey from Hartford, CT: I really enjoy your writing style. Any nonfiction on the horizon? Also, I haven't read the new one; do you think fans of SNOW FALLING will also be fans of EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS?

David Guterson: Regarding your question about nonfiction, I've written a 10,000-word essay for Harper's, where I am a contributing editor, on the pastoral of Washington's apple country. I suspect it will be published in the fall. I've done a few other pieces recently that have appeared in magazines such as Architectural Digest, Outside, and Newsweek.


Pac87@aol.com from xx: How much input are you having in the movie "Snow Falling on Cedars"? Also, what do you think of Ethan Hawke as Ishmael?

David Guterson: I have a considerable amount of input into the film. I was extensively involved in location scouting and consulted intensively on the screenplay. I made frequent visits to the set and have now seen the film twice. Ethan Hawke is extraordinary in this role. I think this is a film that will vault him to a new level in his career as an actor.


Lonny from Manchester, VT: I loved Ben's care and concern for Tristan and Rex, his Brittanies. Do you have any dogs? Also, will you be coming up to Manchester any time soon?

David Guterson: I myself have a Brittany. I got him as a pup while I was writing the book. I am a great lover of the breed. Brittanies are an incredibly friendly and intelligent dog. The closest I'll get to your home is Boston, I'm sorry to say. I will be there Tuesday, May 11th. I believe it's somewhere on the campus at Harvard.


Chester from Birmingham, AL: Was Nels Gudmundsson's character in SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS modeled after anyone you knew?

David Guterson: Nels is an elderly man experiencing physical decline. In that regard, he's fictional. But in his view of life, in his sensibilities, in his style, he is in certain regards reminiscent of my own father, who still today is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Seattle.


Meredith from North Carolina: I just bought your new novel and am looking forward to reading it! As an aspiring fiction author, I look to immerse myself in as much good literature as possible. What and/or who do you turn to for inspiration?

David Guterson: I don't read for inspiration, but certainly there are a large number of contemporary writers to admire and to learn from. And these would include Gabriel García Márquez, Saramago, and Annie Proulx, among others.


James from New York: I haven't read your new novel yet, but I read SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS and am reading and enjoying THE COUNTRY AHEAD OF US, THE COUNTRY BEHIND. In reading I could not help wondering whether SNOW FALLING began as a short story. Do you use short-story writing to explore character development or to help you identify what might be a good next novel?

David Guterson: SNOW FALLING did not begin as a short story. When I was in my 20s, I wrote as many as 70 or 80 stories in a very conscious way. I was trying to learn as much as I could about the craft of fiction without engaging the commitment that a novel demands. At a certain point, I felt comfortable enough with the craft of fiction to attempt a novel, and it was at this point that I began SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS.


Moderator: Do you have any books you have been saving to read this summer?

David Guterson: No, I have no books that I have been saving to read during the summer. I really don't know what I'm going to read until I pick something up.


Moderator: Thank you, David Guterson, and best of luck with EAST OF THE MOUNTAINS. Before you leave, do you have any parting thoughts for the online audience?

David Guterson: Only this, that as I've traveled, I've been happy to see how interested people are in books generally. The idea that the novel is dead is absurd, because it is so clear to me that so many millions of readers care deeply about books, and that is a wonderful thing for which all authors are grateful.


Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. What is the importance-literal and symbolic-of Ben's movement eastward? What qualities are associated, through image and direct statement, with the concept of "east"?

2. Most quest novels feature young men or women on journeys of discovery. What effects result from Guterson's presentation of a dying seventy-three-year-old man embarking on a journey of rediscovery? What does Ben Givens (re)discover?

3. Do you think that coincidence and chance occur too often in the novel? What might be Guterson's purpose in countering Ben's lifelong "judicious deliberation" and "attention to all particulars" with the accidents and chance encounters he experiences? What is the significance of the several references to miracles?

4. If "Suicide was at odds with the life he knew, at odds with all he understood, of himself and of the world," why does Ben plan such a carefully thought-out, staged suicide? How would you describe Ben's understanding "of himself and of the world"? Does that understanding change during Ben's three days east of the mountains?

5. "He had been born in the cradle of apple orchards," Guterson writes of Ben, "and it was this world he wanted to return to." How important to Ben is this return to the apple-orchard country of the Columbia Basin at the height of the apple harvest? Given Ben's views on death and dying, why does he want to end his life in this "cradle"? What is significant in the fact that Ben's view of his family's old orchard is from a moving bus while he is busy with the ill migrant picker?

6. Do Ben's memories of family, Rachel, and war serve only to provide us with details of his past life? What bearing on Ben's present does each ofhis memories have? How do those memories help us understand Ben's life and behavior?

7. At the end of chapter two, Ben recalls that he and Rachel, on their honeymoon, "had kissed with the sadness of newlyweds who know...that their good fortune is subject, like all things, to the crush of time, which remorselessly obliterates what is most desired and pervades all that is beautiful."To what extent has time crushed the desired and the beautiful in Ben's life? To what extent do his experiences during his three-day journey counter that disquieting observation?

8. Why does Guterson pay so much attention to details of landscape and natural phenomena? Through what kinds of landscape, both past and present, does Ben travel? How is Guterson's presentation of each landscape important in terms of the corresponding stage in Ben's life and of his view of life at each stage?

9. What role does hunting play in Ben's life? What kinds of hunting does he participate in or observe, and what are the purposes and consequences? In what ways does his attitude toward hunting change?

10. How are the episodes involving the wolfhounds and their consequences significant, particularly in terms of Ben's inability to control or influence events? What details of landscape and time of night give these episodes particular import? Why does Ben, having found William Harden near his journey's end, relinquish the gun to the wolfhound owner with the statement, "That gun is cursed"?

11. As he settles Rex into the cab of Stu Robinson's tractor-trailer, Ben thinks, "There were no good answers to important questions." What are the important questions, from Ben's perspective? What answers does he find? Which of those answers, if any, are "good"?

12. What is the importance of Ben's experience in the field hospital in Italy, and of Ben's memory of that experience? Why is this memory presented in such detail? What influence did the Army surgeon have on Ben?

13. In his Quincy motel room, Ben opens the Gideon Bible to the Book of Job and reads the verses that begin, "Days of affliction have taken hold upon me." And, on the bus to Wenatchee, he refers to Don Quixote as "Knight of the Mournful Countenance." Are the correspondences implied by these references justified? In what ways might Ben be compared to Job and Don Quixote? What other biblical and literary references occur, and what are their relevance?

14. Sitting in the restaurant with Emilio, Ben decides that "the life of the boy-of anyone-was a life, in the end, and no mere story to be told across the table. The essentials could not be culled from the rest without divesting both certain meanings." What bearing might this realization have on our acceptance of the story of Ben's life?

Copyright (c) 2000. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.

Questions and author biography written by Hal Hager & Associates, Somerville, New Jersey

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(3)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2000

    I Was Able To Get Inside That Man's Head

    I really enjoyed East of the Mountains. I respect Guterson's ability to bring to these pages the very soul of this 73-year-old man. I wonder how he, as a younger man, got so much insight into what it would be like mentally to face such a thing as a cancer diagnosis at 73. Everytime I read a Guterson book I end up understanding men better, their depth of emotion, their motivations, their courage or lack thereof, the experiences they open themselves up to. I really appreciate the opportunity to gain this knowledge. I anxiously await Guterson's next book. He has a trememndous ability to take you there with his engaging descriptions of the terrain and culture. He is able to cross the great divide and communicate accurately the mind, will, and emotions of his characters. I connect with his works and am edified by them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Absolutely wonderful

    One of my favorite novels. The trek Dr. Ben makes through the wilderness is heart warming. A true walk through lifeand the human experience.
    Cliff

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 21, 2010

    Moving, bold & tender

    The story of Dr Ben Givens is one of hope in the face of terminal illness. Dr Ben finds that hope in the wilderness, fighting the elements with his faithful dogs on his final hunting trip. The empathy of total strangers who reach out to help him demonstrate the goodness of life and offer Ben a reason to fight for his life again. David Guterson has a way with description, painting a spectacular picture of the beauty of the American West.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2003

    A Must Read!

    I couldn't put this book down! It is heart warming, and heart wrenching. Sean Connery MUST star in a movie version!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2002

    The Other Side.

    This is a good solid read, but somehow lacking in the brilliance of his first novel. The study of a man who knows his end is near and his need to sum up his life is convincing, but this book just didn't have the soaring passages that made Gutersons' earlier work so great.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2002

    Thinker

    This book makes you think alot about the true value of yout own life. I enjoyed it alot.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2001

    Disappointing Second Effort by Gifted Writer

    Guterson is a writer of great power. He enriches an already vigorous narrative style with vivid details of landscape, history, character, and mere work-a-day process, and tempers it with a mature sense of the human condition. This extraordinary talent met its perfect vehicle in Guterson's fine debut novel, 'Snow Falling On Cedars.' Unfortunately, 'East of the Mountains' falls short, largely because Guterson does not control an almost palpable urge to unleash his obvious talents on every event, scene, or character, human or otherwise, without restraint or sense of proportion. The constant booming of the big guns from Guterson's massive arsenal overwhelms this essentially introspective and thoughtful book. A few remarkable scenes justify big gun treatment, but ultimately deserve a better home. Amongst these is a riveting flashback to a WW-2 field hospital in Italy, where a dying soldier is wrenched miraculously back to life by a determined but nameless army surgeon, superbly portrayed in Guterson's meatiest prose. Other scenes in the novel deserve a lighter palette, but do not get it. A stern editor might have saved the day. But I still look forward to Guterson's next one....

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2000

    well crafted

    East of the Mountains was a slow start for me and I liked it better on the second reading. It is not complicated or inaccessible, but it demands the reader's thought and attention because a lot of what is happening is between the lines. Absolutely worth the time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2000

    i really enjoyed this book

    it really satisfied me. very much. everything i wanted to happen happened. I will certainly be enjoying it again. thank you for the opportunity.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)