The Other: A Review

I recently received The Other by David Guterson for review from Random House (you can purchase a copy at Random House). You may have heard of a little book called Snow Falling on Cedars. Yep, he wrote that one too. I haven't read anything from him before (didn't see the movie either) so I came to his work fresh.

It's a rather bizarre tale. Neil Countryman is a middle class kid in Seattle who randomly meets a rich loner named John William Barry. For some reason, Neil is drawn to John William and the two become friends. They go hiking and get high together until they graduate and go their separate ways. Neil spends a small inheritance on school and a trip to Europe, where he meets his future wife, an independent and feet-firmly-on-the-ground kind of person. Meanwhile, John William becomes ever more surly and withdrawn, choosing to live like a hermit in the woods. Eventually, John William asks Neil to help him disappear completely and for years Neil has to live with keeping the secret of where is and what happened to John William from the recluse's family.

Like I said, it's bizarre. There is a lot of set up to explain why John William is such a weirdo and why Neil goes along with his strange plan. Honestly, I love my friends but I'm not carving out a cave in the middle of the forest for them. Not even if we are 'blood brothers'. I keep trying to figure out the hold John William had over Neil and I'm not sure I buy it.

In some ways, The Other reminds me of The Great Gatsby, if Gatsby was a dirty, smelly, know-it-all. Nick Carraway is a writer trying to piece together the life of his friend Gatsby. Neil Countryman is also a writer explaining the life of John William. Gatsby's wealth is his undoing. John William's wealth is part of his undoing- his wanting to be rid of it, that is. However, where Gatsby is charismatic, John William is an angry loner.

I found it hard to feel sympathy for John William. He's antagonizing. He's got a smart answer for everything and likes to make Neil feel like a hypocrite time and again. John William is a gnostic, which I had to look up. Basically, we're all ants and God is a bully with a magnifying glass. At least, that's how I understand it. And while I can see how this causes much of John William's despair, I think he enjoys any excuse to wallow in self-pity. I kept waiting for a big reveal at the end to explain his behaviour, but when it came it was a bit of a let down.

However, I did like Neil and his wife, Jamie. They're a cool pair. She's got bags of patience when it comes to John William. Preternatural bags of patience. There is a lot to ponder from this book and Lordy is Neil wordy, (Do we need to know what he had for breakfast in 1972?) but it's an interesting predicament he's in, even though I think he gets off a bit too easy.

So, I think I'll Recommend this book to you all.

(Remember, if you've reviewed this one too, leave a link in the comments.)


  1. I'm going to be looking for this! I really liked Snow Falling On Cedars. Didn't get his 2nd book -- the title escapes me -- but have wanted to.

  2. i haven't read it, but I loved Snow Falling On Cedars. Loved it! So, I'll look into this. Thanks for your good review!

  3. Great review Chris! Are you still planning on participating in the Arc Reading Challenge? I didn't see a post on your blog about it. You could use this as the first book read for the challenmge.

  4. Thanks all!

    Bybee- I know he wrote a couple but I don't remember the names either.

    Bellezza- I'm going to have to read that one.

    Teddy- Done!


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