East of the Mountains

by David Guterson

Hardcover, 1999

Collection

Genres

Publication

Harcourt Brace & Company (1999), Edition: 1st ed, 279 pages

Description

A retired heart surgeon, recently widowed, does not wish to confront his terminal colon cancer. He decides to go on a last hunt in his home state of Washington.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rainpebble
East of the Mountains by David Guterson; (5*)

Like the author's Snow Falling on Cedars, I enjoyed this book tremendously. I have read many books in which I have become immersed and this is definitely one of them. It is not to be quickly forgotten. This story is so real and so profound that I became surrounded by the novel and found it interesting for many reasons. One of which is that I am from the state of Washington which is the locale of this tale. I found so many of the places in the book to be very familiar to me.
Ben Givens' past memories of the simple but hard life, however loved and valued by him, reminded me somewhat of my own. I found the war and his feelings and experiences of it horrifyingly graphic and real. His nonjudmental attitude of other people and his physical vulnerability was also very realistic. As a human being, this story depicts the soul that does not age even as our bodies do. The eternal questions about death and dying were achingly apparent in this story. For a young author to understand humanity in this way, that life is fragile but the human spirit inherently courageous, is refreshing.
David Guterson is a treat to read. His writing is simply beautiful. The story is so sad and contains all of the elements of life along with being realistic on the points of dying. His prose brings to the reader some wonderfully vivid mental pictures and the feel of apple country in the eastern part of Washington State. The horrors of the transient fruit pickers and the protagonist's illness I did find very distressing but necessary to the narrative and I felt more hopeful at the end of the book than at the beginning.
This book is one that will be read by me many times.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
East of the Mountains is a novel of lush beauty, set in the deserts and mountains of eastern Washington state. Ben Givens, a cardiac surgeon, is diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at the age of 73. Faced with a drawn out death, and still grieving for his dead wife, Ben packs up his car along with his two hunting dogs and heads to the land of his birth for a final hunting trip. Deep in apple orchard country, amidst the deserts and mountains of Washington, Ben contemplates ending his life. He remembers the years of his childhood amid the apples, the War where he served in a mountain fighting unit, and the idyllic years of his marriage.

Guterson's skill at using natural settings to emphasis internal conflict is great. The novel covers a period of only a few days, but Ben's journey covers a lifetime.

A thoughtful, provocative novel of immense beauty - this is one I can recommend.
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LibraryThing member John
I really enjoyed Guterson's two earlier books: Snow Falling on Cedars, which was a best seller (96:17), and a wonderful collection of short stories: the country ahead of us, the country behind (96:24), so I was excited to learn that he had a new novel out. It is quite different from Snow..., and I think not quite as good.

The story centres on Ben Givens, a retired heart surgeon who has recently lost his wife, and is now dying of colon cancer. Givens, an outdoors person all of his life, decides that he will go on one last bird-hunting trip with his two dogs, and make his death look like a hunting accident to spare his daughter the anguish of coming to grips with his suicide. But the best laid plans ‘o mice and men...Ben has an accident on the highway that wrecks his vehicle; he is rescued by a young, footloose couple in a VW van who take him to a nearby town, and thus begins what can only be described as his Odyssean journey from a determination to end his life, back around to an appreciation of the value of maintaining it despite the grim prognosis. (The Odyssean theme is eternal; witness the success of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (97:36).) Like Odysseus, Givens meets a number of people who help or challenge him: the young couple who help him after the accident and who remind him of the fervent love he felt for his wife; the hitchhiker who introduces him to the glories of marijuana which he uses to dull the pain in his side; the young woman on a bus who challenges him to help an obviously ill itinerate worker; the veterinarian woman who patches up his dog after a fight with coyote-chasing wolfhounds; the owner of the wolfhounds who steals Givens' shotgun as compensation for Givens having killed one of the dogs; another itinerate worker whom Givens befriends and finds a job apple-picking and who leads him into a situation where he is called upon to save a teenage girl having a very difficult birth; the woman who then befriends him and drives him back home to Seattle. Throughout there are flashbacks to Ben's life on the apple-farm, the early death of his mother and its affect on his father, and his experience in WWII (undistinguished, but which led him to medicine).

Guterson has an eye for scenery and loves to dwell on his descriptions; he has also done a lot of research on the practice, challenges and heartbreaks of fruit farming which he uses to effect. Givens is a good character: well-developed and sympathetic and Guterson describes well the conflict and journey that Givens travels as incidents and reminders of life continually interrupt his plans to kill himself. The other characters are not well developed; they are stock-pieces that serve their purposes in the story and then disappear. I didn't think the novel was as well structured or as deep across a number of characters as was Snow..., but I enjoyed the writing and the struggle with the eternal questions of the value of life and love.
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LibraryThing member ebethe
I did not enjoy this novel, but I finished it. I had so looked forward to it after reading Snow Falling on Cedars, but this was a disappointment. I couldn't write anything this good, but it just didn't draw me in like I hoped/expected it to.
LibraryThing member redheadish
In East of the mountains, Ben Givens a retired doctor from Eastern Wa transplanted to Seattle, He goes on quite an unexpected journey to end his life, but with the many trials and tribulations he currently faces it seem that somehow everything he so carefully planned to end his life is thwarted. He ends up doing a bit of his doctoring again along his way helping people unknown to him, all the while reminiscing about his life from teenager till then mostly due to the hannibis a drifter gave him that he reluctantly didn't want to use at first because he was a doctor. He comes across good people and a rogue bad guy. Ben deals with loss, resolution, love, compassion and many more feelings.… (more)
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Ben is a retired cardio-thoracic surgeon, a widower, a man with terminal cancer. As the story opens, he is planning a last hunting trip during which he intends to commit suicide in order to spare his daughter and grandson the pain of watching him waste away. He is a meticulous planner, choosing to make his death look accidental but once he actually leaves for this final journey over the Cascade Mountains, even his elaborate and careful plans are turned upside down. After a car accident on his way to his chosen hunting grounds, Ben and his dogs set out to fulfill his intentions both traveling with others and traipsing through the countryside of his childhood on foot. During the journey, Ben recalls his own early years and meditates on the changes in the area around him.

Guterson has written beautifully of the Washington orchards and mountains. His portrayal of the various small towns through which Ben passes is consummate. And he captures the isolation and solitude of the area and of his main character. The pace of the novel is slow and measured and there are no loud and climactic moments as Ben wanders through the detailed landscape of his beginnings. This is not action-packed; rather it is a peripatetic and thoughtful journey about mortality and humanity. The narrative focuses almost solely on Ben and his internal life during the 48 hours which he has determined to be his last. The quiet flow of this story will not be for everyone but for those who are in no rush to overlook the beautiful descriptiveness contained within these pages, this is a haunting and melancholic read. Recommended with reservations.
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LibraryThing member tnquilter
The book was good, thought-provoking with a clean writing style. The big disadvantage for me was the excessive use of site names, which if you are not familiar with the Pacific Northwest area, was distracting to the story's cadence.
LibraryThing member julie10reads
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!
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LibraryThing member theageofsilt
The central character, Ben Givens, is confronting terminal cancer and decides to end his life in the forest of his boyhood countryside. The author never delves deeply into Givens' feelings. It relates his misadventures as he sets out on a final hunting trip with his dogs. He encounters some interesting, but not especially memorable characters. It contains a lot of pointless detail and little emotional force.… (more)
LibraryThing member marient
In mid-October, in the rich pear and apple growing region of Washington State's Columbia Basin, reited heart surgeon Ben Givens learns that he has terminal colon cancer. Determined to avoid his suffering, Ben sets out wih his two hunting dogs throught the sage deserts. camupms. amid the orchjards of the American West on his last hunt. But the people he meets and memories he evokes on his journey tesst his very identiy.… (more)
LibraryThing member 4bonasa
I've stopped reading East of the Mountains for the time being, I don't care for the authors treatment of my favorite shotgun; the Winchester Model 21.
LibraryThing member nancynova
After an inoperable cancer diagnosis, widowed Ben decides to hear out for bird hunting, and "accidentally" shoot himself. Only he winds up totaling his car on the way, getting picked up by Hippies in a VW - and his trip unravels from there, allowing him time to focus outside of himself and realize that his suicide was going to harm, not spare, his family. Lovely descriptions throughout the book of the mountainous region near Seattle with the orchards.… (more)
LibraryThing member jphamilton
What will be the fate of East of the Mountains, the new David Guterson book that follows his huge bestseller Snow Falling on Cedars? The expectations for a book following a "monster bestseller" always seem to be driven by the marketing and promotional hype that surround the new title. My advice is to clear your mind ... sit down with the book ... and read.

The connection with the land that Guterson gives his main character, Ben Givens, is one of the best depictions of a love of nature in a work of fiction that I've ever read. What sends Ben off on the story's journey is the cold hard news that he has terminal cancer. Ben Givens is a good man in a hard place. This aged doctor and recent widower makes an important decision. He heads off into the American West with his two hunting dogs. This is to be the trio's last hunting trip. The beautiful descriptions of the different landscapes that they move through are only rivaled by the blunt and thoughtful way that the author writes of Ben's feelings.

I was sick for a few days while reading this book. When I feel sick, I tend to wear my favorite shirt and eat my comfort foods; East of the Mountains filled the bill as a very comfortable place (a disturbingly comfortable place) for my mind to be traveling. While there are several disturbing things that happen in the novel, it was the writing that just captured me. Some reviewers have said that the story is just a small little tale--ignore these people. There are many strong emotions very close to the surface all through this book. This book had everything that I expect from a strong novel.

(6/99)
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LibraryThing member addunn3
OK, it has been a great summer and I have been busy, but for reasons that are as illusive as a certain mole in my yard I couldn't get excited about this book. Ben seemed rather flat, the dialogue forced, and the details sometimes didn't contribute to the flow of the story.
LibraryThing member juniperSun
Very good. An old M.D. plans to kill himself in the mountains looking like an accident. He has cancer. Coincidences stop him.
LibraryThing member sianpr
A poignant tale of Ben, a retired doctor with colon cancer who sets out on a hunting expedition with the intention of committing suicide. However, things do not go according to plan and Ben's encounters change his outlook.
LibraryThing member Randall.Hansen
Absolutely loved the journey we take with Ben, the main character in this novel, a widower doctor who has terminal cancer and decides to take one last journey to his childhood home... and end his life on his terms. There is a certain beauty to author Guterson's prose, and I found the story engaging and powerful. It was an added bonus that the story takes place in Washington state, and home is the apple capitol of Wenatchee.… (more)
LibraryThing member silva_44
I was so excited to read another book by David Guterson after having read and enjoyed Snow Falling on Cedars. This book, the tale of a heart surgeon from Seattle, did not move me in the same ways. I enjoyed the descriptions of the orchards and of the various characters he meets along his journey, but the plot seemed to lack a certain magical element, perhaps of prose or setting, that I had hoped to enjoy. After my parents divorced, I lived in several of the towns mentioned in the novel, and it was interesting to hear about them from a different point of view. Overall, the book was mediocre.… (more)

Pages

279

ISBN

0151002290 / 9780151002290
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