The Other

by David Guterson

Hardcover, 2008

Call number




Knopf (2008), 272 pages


When two boys--John William Barry and Neil Countryman-- meet in 1972 at age sixteen, they're brought together by what they have in common: a fierce intensity and a love of the outdoors that takes them, together and often, into Washington's remote backcountry, where they must rely on their wits--and each other--to survive. Soon after graduating from college, Neil sets out on a path that will lead him toward a life as a devoted schoolteacher and family man. But John Willliam makes a radically different choice, dropping out of college and moving deep into the woods, convinced that it is the only way to live without hypocrisy. When John enlists Neil to help him disappear completely, Neil finds himself drawn into a web of secrets and often agonizing responsibility, deceit, and tragedy--one that will finally break open with a wholly unexpected, life-altering revelation.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member kylenapoli
Hard to put down. The degree to which Guterson captures life in Seattle during these years, the Pacific Northwest wilderness, and a certain kind of extreme intellectualism well known at Reed College, while not surprising, is remarkable. The narrator, Neil Countryman is able to peer deeply into his own life and the lives of those around him -- catching the details, seeing strengths and weakness, finding clarity and mystery in equal measure.… (more)
LibraryThing member MeganAndJustin
Set in 1970s to 1990s Seattle and Puget Sound wilderness, another beautiful novel by Guterson. A difficult novel to characterize. Though at first glance it seems to be about a friendship, it grows into a statement about how separate we all are, but the separation is expressed without despair.
LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
I really enjoyed this work. The characters came to life in beautifully written prose, and the story held my interest until the end. Guterson's book weaves numerous elements into a seamless narrative, including wilderness survival, life in Seattle and the complexities of friendship.
LibraryThing member ddirmeyer
I wanted to like this book. I remember liking Snow Falling on Cedars so I looked forward to this novel. I found it to be boring and almost impossible to read. I kept looking for one character I could like - just anyone with some redeeming features that I could care about what would happen to them. I was unable to find one. Guterson tells us from the beginning how his story will end, so there is really no suspense to keep the pages turning. I would not recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member JeffreyP
Enjoyed it. At times a little slow, but he held my interest. This was my first book by D.G. I'd try another.
LibraryThing member brenzi
The story of the hermit John William and his friend Neil Countryman, to whom he leaves $440,000,000. They become friends at a high school track meet and spend years, on and off, in the Cascade Mountains. Eventually, John William gets rid of his car and lives in a cave deep in the wilderness on the Hoh River. Neil brings him food, books and other vital things but after breaking his ankle, isn't able to get out there for 11 weeks. When he does, John William is dead, seemingly after a fall. Neil wraps him in cedar bark and leaves him in the cave following a burial ritual of the Hoh tribe. Twenty two years later John William's remains are found and Neil is unidentified because his name is found in the books left in the cave. A lawyer contacts him to announce his good fortune. Great read! Almost as good as his masterpiece, "Snow Falling on Cedars."… (more)
LibraryThing member LukeS
While I was reading it and afterward, I could not escape the notion that "The Other" by David Guterson deals with a shadow character, a rumored extension of the first-person narrator, a superego. Neil Countryman, our narrator, makes the acquaintance of John William Barry, the eponymous Other, during a half-mile race in high school. They become close friends, and Barry's character becomes clearer over time, and over time it becomes more and more intolerant.

Barry is a young man of considerable abilities who holds himself and everyone else to outrageous standards. He's an over-the-top idealist who depends on Neil to keep him in contact with the outside world. In fact, at length he separates himself from the rest of the world by going to live in a remote cave on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. From this height he comes to depend completely on the down-to-earth aid Neil can and does give him. Eventually a snowstorm prevents Neil from bringing up the needed food and supplies, and when he finally gets to the Other's cave, he finds him dead. Later, when the authorities finally find him, Neil discovers he is the sole heir to Barry's very considerable estate, hundreds of millions.

This is one of those stories that provokes the highest kind of speculation in me. As I ponder the relationship of the two men, how irresistible it is to think how the uncompromising idealist-hermit represents the higher, more virtuous plane, and how living on that plane necessarily alienates you from society. Our earth-bound narrator eventually receives a mind-boggling financial legacy - isn't it something like learning what true virtue is - in the sense that it is of inestimable value?

David Guterson has produced a masterpiece, a novel for the ages. His prose, as always, is wonderful, and is one aspect of the book that stirred these deep thoughts in me. Each sentence and paragraph serves the higher shining truth - is an exhibit of supporting evidence. I think he ranks as the finest living American author - alongside Marilynne Robinson. If you seriously read fiction, read this.
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LibraryThing member aklnbrg
The Other has a lot of details about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest region. Set from the late fifties and onward, with a focuss on the 1970's the story creates a strong bond between the author and a middle aged reader who grew up in Seattle during those years. There are numberous references to places and business from the time, many of which probably don't even exist anymore. The "Last Exit" comes to mind.

Conspicuously missisng is any refernece to the world fair and the erruption of Mt. St. Helens. Why not throw a bone to the non-local reader just to give him some feeling of belonging to the story?

The main character is really boring, I suppose what most people would imagine someone who lived his whole life in Seattle to be. But the lack of color in the main character-narrator didn't detract in my eyes. The author certainly knows how to add color and passion to his characters and presumably purposely deprived this one if any in order to make room for the other more remarkable characters.

(To be continued with a discussion of the plot.)
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LibraryThing member teresa1953
This is one of those books which I believe you either love or hate. I loved it.....very much so. It deals with complex characters and the effect they have on one another. This is illustrated best in the eponymous John William Barry who struggles with life in the "hamburger world" as he calls it. An only child of wealthy, achieving parents, he is neglected by his mother who, in turn, has mental health issues. His father is painted as a weak individual who seems unable to intervene in what he knows is a cruel way of "parenting".

A chance meeting with Neil Countryman leads to a life long friendship which endures, despite John William's retreat in to the Cascade mountains where he cuts out his own cave by hand and lives off the land. Neil visits him regularly and brings much needed provisions, but after suffering an accident himself, the worst happens to his friend. There is a deeply touching account of Neil coming upon John William's body and his need to leave his friend in a dignified manner. He respects the blood pact he made to his friend that he would never reveal his whereabouts. It is that which runs through the whole book......this promise and how hard it must have been to keep it.

I won't describe anything as not to ruin it for the next reader.

Snow Falling on Cedars was a masterpiece......and this is almost as good. I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
I really had looked forward to reading this book because I was so enthralled with "Snow Falling On Cedars." I found it very difficult to get into this book and then couldn't really connect with the characters or care what happened to them. There is an inordinate amount of pedantic musing that I found irritating. It was, for me, a disappointment.… (more)
LibraryThing member scarpettajunkie
The Other by David Guterson is a work of fiction that treads the fine line to believability. It is just possible someone exists that has done what John has done. It is very likely. The Other is written from the perspective of Neil Countryman who is a want-to-be author and full-time school teacher and family man. He is best friends with John William Barry who was born with a silver spoon. These two dissimilar men share a love of the wilderness. A connection is formed and built upon to the extent that John asks Neil to help him disappear into the wilderness. Thus starts this story of lies, responsibility, and ultimately tragedy.

I liked this story because it does remind me of people I know. Page by page the friendship and adventures of Neil and John develop and along with this is the sense of understanding of John. You can see John’s way of thinking and the reasoning is laid out. While I may not have agreed, I understood. I liked the idea of inherited riches. Would you change your life if you could? How do you cope with a fortune placed at your feet? Where do you think your responsibilities lie?

This story made good use of curiosity. I had to turn the pages to see if John was a survivor or if he was going to throw in the towel. It is completely fascinating to see how John progresses in self-sufficiency. How Neil is affected by John’s decisions also kept the pages turning.

I would highly recommend The Other by David Guterson. It is a case study of the psyche and lays out some interesting moral questions. It is a page turner that will make you think long after the last page is read. I enjoyed it and feel enlightened. It is not a book to be passed over.
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LibraryThing member SugarCreekRanch
Quit at page 119. Very slow moving. I enjoyed Snow Falling on Cedars and Our Lady of the Forest, but just could not get into this one.
LibraryThing member rupera
slow moving and dull
LibraryThing member presto
Having just inherited a large fortune from his late friend John William Barry, Neil Countryman tells how it all came about. Friends since 1972 when in their their teens the two boys meet while competing against one another in the 880 yards. A friendship grows out of their shared love of the outdoor life and love of exploring the wilds around their Seattle home. On their ventures into the often unknown they would live off their wits and off the land.

But in time Neil settles for a conventional married life and teaching while John William is determined to live according to his beliefs, and starts to live a solitary totally self sufficient life in the Washington wilderness.

The Other is a story rich in detail, perhaps at times a little too much detail as Guterson can become bogged down in creating family histories and local connections. Roughly only half the book actually concerns the friendship the two boys and later young men enjoy. The rest looks into what made the two, and especially John William, what they are.

At its best it is a compelling and moving story, particularly when John William is living his life of recluse with Neil his only contact. But at times it can become a little laborious, and I began to wonder for a while if the book would ever get to discussing the character of John William and their friendship.
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LibraryThing member doggonelaura
Many reviewers found this novel a little long or long winded. I loved it for that reason. I liked the idea that Neil used his journals to tell his story—the detail felt real (something an ordinary person like me could have written). Here’s a ‘boring’ school teacher, living a very real and ordinary life in a very satisfying way. He loves his wife, he loves teaching, yet then, he has this secret friend, and then a bigger secret. What is mental “health”? Is John William ‘sick’? I loved the narration of Neil’s basically ordinary life with the stories of John William’s hermit life interwoven and contrasted. Part of my enjoyment may have been that I’m approximately the same age and went to school in Oregon—I could totally relate to the setting and characters. I liked the idea that Neil used his journals to tell his story—the detail felt real (something an ordinary person like me could have written).… (more)
LibraryThing member sunnydrk
I turned to this book based on a positive review. Unfortunately, I found the author long winded and the storyline less than intriguing. Unusual for me, this book took me almost 2 months to read as it was just a complete drugery to get through. That being said, I believe I missed a lot of the finer details as I just couldn't "get into it". The one positive of the book was the scenic descriptions. He was able to convey the beauty and remoteness of many areas in the Pacific Northwest.… (more)
LibraryThing member starbox
'that loner who lived in the woods for seven years and who bequeathed me $440,000,000', 21 January 2015

This review is from: The Other (Hardcover)
I got increasingly wrapped up in this novel: narrated by Neil Countryman, an English teacher of working class origin, whose life has followed fairly ordinary lines - marriage, children, an aim to write his own book. But Neil's life has another side - his friend since his teens, wealthy John William Barry. As John William moves from just being 'unusual' to dropping out entirely, living a bleak life of a hermit in the deepest, harshest forests of Washington State, Neil pays regular visits, bringing supplies and books, playing chess and discussing the belief of the former in Gnosticism... And compelled by an earlier 'blood oath' never to reveal his friend's whereabouts....
Vivid descriptions of nature and survival; the desperately touching account of John William (mad or wise? Driven to such extreme behaviour by parental failings?) For me the final message was that each man must forge his own path: despite Neil's efforts on his friend's behalf, he had to live his own life most of the time, leaving John William to go his own way.
Unique and extremely readable.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
I really struggled to get through this book. Deeply philosophical, there was little about the story which truly grabbed my attention and pulled me into the story. As I stumbled my way through (I was reading because of a pending book club discussion), I did find certain points in the story interesting - the narrator's sudden inheritance, and a revelation towards the end intrigued me, but I wish those pieces of the story had been presented a little differently. I will say, as someone who enjoys hiking, I could empathize with some of the characters' decision, but not so much the choice to live as a hermit.… (more)
LibraryThing member Rdra1962
I loved Snow Falling on Cedars, I hated this book. So boring,such a waste of paper, of trees, pages and pages of unneeded details. At one point he takes two pages to describe a lawyer who is a part of his life for 10 minutes. Dull characters, a story line that just repeats itself, really, the editor of this book should be shot!… (more)
LibraryThing member ozzieslim
There are some books you read and pass on to others to enjoy. There are others you read and they become credit for the used bookstore and further purchases. And then, there are those rare few that you keep forever because they strike a chord with you. This is one of those books for me.

I originally bought this book because I have read everything else he has written. I haven't always liked his books but they have a certain feel of silence and calm that I like. Guterson is also an author from the Pacific Northwest and my original reason for purchasing this book was for a book club in which I once participated.

It took me three years to pick this book back up because I associated it with...well, just a lot of negative things that were going on when I started to read it. Spiritual reasons made me pick it back up. The timing was right on.

The story is simple. Two guys meet in high school at a cross country track meet and become friends and hiking companions in the Olympic Mountains. After high school, Neil goes to college and takes the traditional path participating in what John William calls "Hamburger World" while John William wanders, eventually settling in a cave on the Hoh River and becomes an ascetic of sorts.

The story is also not simple. There is a deep unconditional love between these two friends. Neil worries for John William and is constantly hauling things up to his cave through difficult terrain and all weather. Each time he asks John William to come back down with him but each time John William declines.Neil learns things: about simplicity, spirituality, the natural world and our connection to it. Neil worries that John William is mad. He isn't. This does not stop Neil questioning in ways overt and subtle and trying to understand John William. He goes so far as to help John William disappear. Neil comes from a blue collar family and has nothing but himself to give and he gives generously in this way to John William.

John William, while chiding Neil for his choices, does not try to stop him making those choices. He understands that Neil is also seeking but has stopped looking finding his joy in the everyday - college, marriage, children and the "Hamburger World." He understands that some people are able to sink into their lives and settle without addressing "the big questions". Through his asceticism, he knows that he will never stop looking and seeking answers to the big questions and that for him to understand, this is the only way. To fulfill his love for Neil, he gives him starter cash (an unasked for surprise) from his trust fund so that Neil may embark on his life. John William's family are old money Seattle.

One day, Neil returns to John William's camp to find him face down in his fire, dead. John William by this time has spent years up in his cave. Neil undertakes the ultimate task of unconditional love by preparing his friends body (crudely using nature's tools) and placing him in his cave to continue his existence undisturbed. Many years later, John William's body is found and in his (JW) last act of unconditional love and friendship for Neil, he leaves him a very wealthy man.

Each time Neil goes to the cave with supplies, he spends time with his friend. There are many conversations, the reading of poetry, discussions of Basho zen, work in the natural world and conversations. There are also silences filled simply. Sometimes each is absorbed in his own thoughts, sometimes they eat, sometimes they soak in a natural spa they created from a spring, sometimes they read and sometimes they just sit and watch the natural beauty and wonder of the area. It is in the stillness that a friendship transcends the mundane world and you can sit in silence with grace and have the whole universe speak between you in that silence. This is the rarest and most sought after of friendships.

Neil feels guilt for many reasons and the final chapter of the book is a meditation on how the first years of our lives shape us and in many ways shape the experiences we choose to have and the way we see the world. This is a subtle message that is actually woven through the entire book but is crystallized in the final chapter. The tears of man.

If the contemplative life does not move you, then you probably will not enjoy this book. Sometimes there is a lot of detail that on the surface seems redundant and may annoy the reader who prefers to "get on with the story". If you want to sit in the stillness of friendship and unconditional love, then I recommend this book.
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