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The Other    by David Guterson order for
by David Guterson
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2008 (2008)
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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

What does it mean to be rich? Is it the sumptuous home and expensive hobbies? Can you find your treasure merely by standing in a forest listening to birdcalls and seeing wildlife? Is there an in-between possibility? These are the questions David Guterson explores in his new novel, The Other.

Neil Countryman, the narrator, is the son of working-class people who have always worked very hard to achieve their dreams. Neil gets to know John William Barry, the scion of a very wealthy family, a young man who has had every advantage without effort or question and whose upbringing means nothing to him. In fact he rejects so vehemently the life his parents have fashioned for him that he goes to live in a cave in the forest. For Neil, who has spent many a camping adventure with John William, this is at first not a problem. Neil packs in to see John William every so often, and they continue their conversations about books and philosophy. Over time, though, Neil begins to have misgivings about the whole thing and tries to convince John William that it's time for him to come back. John William's response envelopes Neil in secrets that will be very hard for Neil to face up to later.

This novel is not easily read but it is still beautifully written. Guterson shows us how one man, caught in a situation he cannot quite control, comes to think about money and happiness, simplicity versus sophistication, and whether he can make a stand. John William's standard question to Neil - have you sold out? - reverberates throughout. It's an important one, and there is never an easy answer.

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