What I found particularly interesting about East of the Mountains by David Guterson was that from the very beginning we knew that the character Dr Ben Givens, suffering from bowel cancer, was going home with his dogs to hunt birds for the last time and shoot himself. A retired heart surgeon Givens wanted to have quality of life over quantity of life but he was determined that his suicide would look like an accident. Despite the novels predictability it was compelling and a book that was difficult to put down.
This was largely due to the evocative descriptions of place (Washington State) that Guterson wrote in eloquent prose. “He passed the night in a wood of fir trees close to the Skykomish River. It was dense, dark and silent there, wet and uninviting. But in the early morning he rose from dreams to find the river pale and lovely, mist steaming off its waters, the fog thick on its distant bank, and he went down in the cold dawn light to wash his face at a riffle, where he saw a kingfisher flash by.”
Rather than plot driven this novel was a journey both backward and forward with some small climactic episodes from the present to move Ben Givens further on his external journey whilst the reader has the benefit of experiencing both the external and internal journey.
Would I recommend this book – yes. I thought it was a beautiful life journey with vivid imagery that allowed me to smell the apples, see the mountains and rivers and hear the war. I have not read Snow Falling on Cedars and although I believe it too has wonderful description of place the story is very different. I have had it on my book shelf for at least 10 years (that tall pile of books to be read) and I know that it has moved up the pile and will soon be read.