Dear John Irving
I just finished reading Last night in twisted river this morning, having tried to finish it last night and had to put it down to save one more bit till this morning. Like the end of all good reads I felt bereft and a bit lost, as if a relationship had come to an end, which I suppose it had, but the oddest part was the dream I had after falling asleep for one more little nap before I got up. It was a sort of recovery nap to ease me through the limbo of finishing the book and entering my own real world again. The dream was similar to a lot I have had all through my life, I go back to a house that I loved and lived in as a child, wander round the rooms and then have some kind of talk with my mother or an old school pal discussing why this or that piece of furniture is in the wrong place, or I go looking for food and can’t find any, or I try to pack some clothes in a bag but can’t decide which ones. All fairly normal dream behaviour. This dream was different, firstly my mother was not there at all, nor any other long deceased family members, also the house looked sort of spruced up a bit, with a few exceptions like large plants in the kitchen and the weirdest thing of all, no pictures hanging up. I am an artist and my mother and father were, if not themselves artists, very much lovers of art, so to have no pictures was odd, but when I looked closer at the spaces on the wall there were hooks waiting for pictures. It was this part of the dream that made me remember it when I came through to my own living room this morning. I looked around the room and noticed a lovely wee picture my sister made for me leaning on a side table and I immediately thought of the picture-less walls in my dream and for a split second thought “Ohh that is where I can hang that picture, in the kitchen…..” then reality kicked in and I realised I’d tried to place the picture on a dream wall! When I thought about the dream again I remembered the really different thing about this ‘usual’ dream was that this time I knew the house was somehow mine now, and not my parents house. Maybe this is just the final part of growing up and growing older I am 55 and have no parents anymore I am the older generation now. The dream probably was reminding me of this, but the picture bit…. that was the unnerving part. I am a visual artist but have not been making real paintings for a while, I tend to take more photographs these days, which I love doing… but I think I am telling myself to make art that can hang on the wall even if it is just my own kitchen wall.
To get back to the book though, I know why this book triggered so many odd thoughts in my overloaded little brain. The book spans a 50 year period, going through tragic things and lovely things, in a kind of long, running away, road trip kind of a way. I am 55, to me it described the amount of time I have been on this planet. It was not really describing my life, but the way it described the main relationships, reminded me of family members and friends, the ones I have known all my life. It stirred me up I suppose, and made me look at things buried in my log jam of a brain and maybe a few logs have jostled loose and are careering down the river. Writing is very hard but very worthwhile, some words flow along the page like racing canoes, and others stutter along, get stuck and idle in circles till waterlogged and mouldy. Looking for the right words and sentences is like panning for gold, you sift through buckets of silt until you spy the shiny wee nugget, just waiting for you at the bottom of the pile.
Writers are courageous and outsiders, they have to be, to view the chaos and comment on it. You have to organise all the muddy dross in your brain and try to squeeze out good pure water. This is what everyone should do, write about things, so you can free up your mind for living life. I ruminate, I go over things in my mind again and again with no real conclusion, that’s what ruminators do, ( sorry I don’t know if that is a word it sounds more like a dinosaur, ruminator velocoraptor!) ruminators over think things without getting anything properly out of their brains and into the air. I want to write more, but mostly I don’t, I will try to make it a New years resolution to write more, but I won’t hold my breath on it.
I think water is the thing to set me off if I am going to write. I always have great thoughts in the shower, the negative ions just sloughing away all my bad positive ions and letting my synapses free of the tyranny of overloaded electricity, works every time. Being by the sea does the same thing, I can understand why writers often seem to take long walks or swims or boat trips on the sea. Rivers and lochs are a bit different they awake a different kind of sprite, a more mischievous and unruly being. River water is more confined than the sea, and water confined is always trying to escape, it knows where it wants to go and nothing will stop it. Whatever you do to control it will not truly conquer it, you have to negotiate with it and make it your ally. A long time ago I read The River Why, by David James Duncan, and although a bit sentimental at times, it is a good read, funny and sad at the same time. It was also just right for the 30 something person that I was then. I think Last night in twisted river is kind of, just right, for the person I am now, an older parent who worries a lot and also finally, really understands her own parents.
The character I love best in the book is of course Ketchum, who I suspect we are all meant to love best, and I think you John Irving, loves best. He is partly my mother I finally understand, and a lot of my brother, but he is mostly me! (My own father is Cookie, he was the best cook in our family, but sadly died long before he ever saw my beautiful daughter). I’m not a woodsman but I do like dogs, I can’t split logs but I do love wood fires, I don’t live on my own but I can be very solitary, I do have wordy rants at the telly and news media, I do love my friends and family fiercely, but I am maybe not always best at showing it.
Funny how you really just read your own life into a book, you have to relate it to known things, to best enjoy it. I had not read a John Irving book since Until I Find You, which was great because it all started off in Edinburgh, so had a good link for me. I really enjoyed Twisted River, as I have enjoyed all your books John Irvine, but this one really arrived in my lap just at the right time. Middle-age is a funny thing, you don’t realise you’ve gone through it till you are nearly out the other end of it. I think I just have to accept I am definitely in the third trimester of my life and should start doing some stuff before it is too late! Thank you John Irving for a bit of a kick up the ass and not letting myself wallow in ‘mountains of moose shit’ as Ketchum might say.
PS this post took me 3 hours to write painfully slow I know, how about that for squeezing out mud to get pure water! or maybe I’ve just made runny mud!