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John Irving
Photo: john-irving.com

Photo: john-irving.com

Novelist John Irving was listening to an old Bob Dylan song when a few lines grabbed him:

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell.

And John Irving was off, on his latest novel. “Last Night in Twisted River.”

Loggers. Big woods. Bears. Blood. Sex. Naked sky diver. Death by skillet. It’s the kind of wild tale he’s been telling ever since “The World According to Garp.” This time with the love of fathers and sons.

This hour, On Point: Novelist John Irving and “Last Night in Twisted River.”

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


John Irving joins us from New York.  The best-selling author of “The World According to Garp,” “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” “Until I Find You,” and many more, he won the National Book Award, an O. Henry Award, and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Cider House Rules.” In 1992 he was inducted into the national Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. His most recent novel is “Last Night in Twisted River.”

Read an excerpt from “Last Night in Twisted River.”

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  • Steve Coss

    I’m wondering whether John Irving thinks fiction writers today bear any responsibility for the generally lackluster sales of literary fiction. Are readers getting dumber or are too many fiction writers failing to speak to them in a meaningful way?

  • Laura

    Where does Mr. Irving get ideas and/or inspiration for his main characters? Especially, Owen Meany and Homer Wells. These characters are very human with many strengths and failings and also so very unique. Those qualities seem to speak to many readers because we can identify with the humanity but also strive to be unique in our own right. How does the author craft these unforgettable people?

  • Sharon Fisher Corbett

    Garp still reigns as one of my top most favorite novels.

    I am listening to every word today!

  • Javed

    The Pension Grillparzer was one of stories that made me want to become a writer. Craft question for Mr. Irving – you have said you write backwards – how do you decide the sequence of events, given how critical they are to the laying out of your stories.

    • Romamary

      I loved the Pension Grillparzer.  I read that book my freshman year in college 25 years ago  instead of doing the reading for my classes, and I don’t regret it.  I can still feel the sensations I got when I read that story; Irving wrote it that way.

  • David

    I was first introduced to Mr. Irvings writing as a student at Vermont Academy. We had the pleasure of hearing him read passages from A Prayer For Owen Meeney. Since then I have eagerly read every one of his books and look foward to the newest eagerly.

  • Janet

    I have been a fan since I found Water Method Man remaindered in the mid-70s. When Garp came out, I fell in love and have loved Owen, Johnny, the Coach…so many of Irving’s character that I quote them regularly. “Keep passing the open windows.”

  • Brett

    Great show, Tom. John Irving is one of the most important literary fiction writers of the late twentieth century and into these times. I found the interview to be insightful. I also liked how Mr Irving shut down all of that talk about comparing writers and their styles; that’s something for critics and scholars to debate not for writers talking about their own work. And as he pointed out, it would be arrogant to discuss how one of his contemporaries should and shouldn’t approach writing.

  • Denis

    This interview was terrific, second only to the interview on Owen Meany. What else can be added to the interview? Not much. So much of the whole Irving experience is, to me, simply experiencing it as he fashions it and gives it out to us. Analysis and exigesis of his books seem to me to miss the point of what he focuses on imparting — creating a story (or, better yet, stories within the story) and having the reader just drink it in and see where it takes him / her. I think that’s why I like and admire this guy so much — just as he shies away from taking on the hook of criticism of Wolfe by the caller to put the hook out to him, he does nothing to tell us what we ought to be taking out of his stories and doesn’t that, ultimately, give us the utmost respect as readers by letting us get what we get from him and not tell us what he expects us to get?

    In terms of overall osmossis — getting what you can out of what he gives us — I personally found Owen Meany the best of the best of his stories — the characters and the sub-stories were so incredibly nuanced and the book so beautifully written — and I found Widow for One Year a close second. Twisted River is certainly an interesting story but, to me, not half as complex (in a good way) than Owen Meany and even several others he has written.

    No question, I am glad I got Twisted River for a birthday gift and had the chance to read it, but I can’t wait for the next really developed book Irving comes out with. Kind of like my ongoing waiting for Mailer’s sequel to Harlot’s Ghost which I’m afraid we’ll be waiting a terribly long time for now that Mailer is gone from us.

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Apr 24, 2014
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, talks with Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Covina at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 21, 2014. Hernandez proposed a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to again allow public colleges to use race and ethnicity when considering college applicants. The proposal stalled this year after backlash from Asian Americans. (AP)

California as Exhibit A for what happens when a state bans affirmative action in college admissions. We’ll look at race, college and California.

Apr 24, 2014
A Buddhist monk lights the funeral pyre of Nepalese mountaineer Ang Kaji Sherpa, killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest, during his funeral ceremony in Katmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 21, 2014.  (AP)

A Sherpa boycott on Everest after a deadly avalanche. We’ll look at climbing, culture, life, death and money at the top of the world.

Apr 23, 2014
Attendees of the 2013 Argentina International Coaching Federation meet for networking and coaching training. (ICF)

The booming business of life coaches. Everybody seems to have one these days. Therapists are feeling the pinch. We look at the life coach craze.

Apr 23, 2014
In this Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, file photo, Chet Kanojia, founder and CEO of Aereo, Inc., shows a tablet displaying his company's technology, in New York. Aereo is one of several startups created to deliver traditional media over the Internet without licensing agreements. (AP)

The Supreme Court looks at Aereo, the little startup that could cut your cable cord and up-end TV as we’ve known it. We look at the battle. Plus: a state ban on affirmative action in college admissions is upheld. We’ll examine the implications.

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