Most outdoor enthusiasts understand the phrase “turn around time” as that point in an adventure when you must cease heading out in order to have enough time to safely return to camp or home--regardless of whether you have reached your destination. For award-winning novelist David Guterson, it is also a metaphor for where we find ourselves in the middle of our lives, and his new narrative poem explores this idea through a lyrical journey along a trail, much like those in Washington’s mountain ranges he hiked while growing up.
Even outdoor-lovers who are not normally readers of poetry will relate to the physicality of hiking represented here, from endless trail switchbacks to foot and ankle pains. There is a fast-moving, propulsive quality to David’s writing, with lush language, vivid imagery, and pacing that resonates as a journey on foot. His words are brought further to life by the delicate yet mythical illustrations by award-winning artist Justin Gibbens.
Problems with People
These ten stories explore our desire, as human beings, to find and know one another, and also ways that desire is obstructed, sometimes by dint of our own shortcomings. If we have problems with other people, it might be at least in part because, like them, we're human and flawed.
Our lives are full of missed connections. We simply fail to see the full, lived reality of other human beings, and we do that on a daily basis. It happens because we are locked inside ourselves, and misconstrue over and over again on the basis of personal smallnesses or culturally informed conditions--gender, ethnicity, class, religion.
Though these stories explore the strained alienation in human interactions, they are ultimately a celebration of our struggle to love one another, and of our deeply entrenched aspiration to reach across divides and embrace our shared humanity. I hope you'll find humor and pathos in these pages, bouncing off one another.
Songs for a Summons
The majority of the poems in this collection were written very early in the morning, as if they had been readying themselves in sleep, dreams, and darkness, galvanizing themselves, effervescing. As a fiction writer, I normally sit at a desk, but these poems wanted to be handwritten by a fireplace, where they were coaxed into form by heat, incandescence, and a relative silence.
I live near woodlands, and inevitably meet animals waking and sleeping, and have found, too, that they live inside my poems--as do the incidental places I've visited on foot over many seasons.I'm a lover of the world's trim and tackle, of its forgotten quotidian, and see existence as a manifest miracle, unfathomable at its core.All of this guided Songs for a Summons into the world--a first book of poems that found me after decades of fiction writing, like a gift and a surprise.
Ed King is a retelling of the Oedipal myth and an examination of the narcissism manifesting, these days, in tech titans. The title figure is the founder of a company called Pythia who has ambitions on a par with Bezos and Musk--that is, to rule not only the world but the universe.
Of course, as in the myth of Oedipus, there is a price to pay for ambition and blindness wedded to narcissism.
I wrote this book in a state of high chagrin about where we're headed as a species. If it's propulsive--and I think it is--that's because I felt propelled while writing it. Like the Greek tragedy on which it's based, Ed King is relentless, a kind of pressure cooker.
Human beings are, at least for me, fundamentally unfathomable. I've found that, with each novel, I'm granted a fresh opportunity to walk in the labyrinthine hallways of self, and that, with the writing, doors open onto heretofore unexplored passageways. Ed King largely felt that way to me as I moved forward in it. It's urban, contemporary, dark, comic, and a narrative exploration of the perils--for all of us--in hubris.
The Other emerged wholesale from wherever it had been, until then, lying in wait for me. I had only to tap into the vein of my adolescence to open the subterranean terrain where it had coalesced on its own.
The Other is set in Seattle in the mid to late 20th century--my own milieu. It's loosely autobiographical in its externals, but deeply so in the questions it examines. It's the story of a friendship between doppelgangers of a kind, or between shadow figures--two young men who, because they are versions of one another, are locked in a friendship freighted with responsibilities.
The novel's narrator, Neil Countryman, becomes an English teacher and, comfortably so, petit bourgeois, with all the happy mediums and daily contentments therein entailed. Meanwhile his mirror image, or alter ego, John William Barry, devolves into a mountain-dwelling hermit who purports to brook no compromise. And so I explored my own inner terrain, in a novel that, with passing years, remains exceedingly close to my heart.
Our Lady of the Forest
Our Lady of the Forest is the story of a young seer and her apparitions of the Virgin Mary, set in a rain forest astride a damp, despairing logging town.
I found myself interested in apparitions of the Virgin Mary after reading about Gnosticism and its notion of the divine feminine, and then about the mass spectacles, with their associated hysteria, that accrue to apparitions at Lourdes and elsewhere. Apparitions of the Virgin Mary have long attracted miracle seekers alongside church officials, skeptics, con artists, and true believers. The phenomenon is ripe for storytelling.
This novel is, for me, both haunting and mysterious. At its source is the second sentence of Catholicism's "Hail, Holy Queen" prayer: To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Descent, available strictly as an e-book, limns my plummet into an episode of acute clinical depression in 2001. Fortunately, my personal bell jar lifted after about four months, but not without leaving me possessed of a specific knowledge that, all things considered, I would prefer not to have.
Why write about such a thing, from which others naturally turn in fear and even abhorrence? Because in the end there's too much reproach and shaming--depression as a cause for disgrace and contempt--for me not to write about it.
Though I've found my way back to a life of love, joy, and beauty, I haven't forgotten the tortured alternate reality of depression, and hope that Descent illuminates it for friends, loved ones, co-workers, and professionals who, in light of my story, might feel better equipped to understand and help.
East of the Mountains
East of the Mountains is a mythic journey story with a twist in that its hero is 73. I wrote it on the heels of copious research that took me into the Dolomites and the Appenines in Italy, and the sage steppe and orchards of central Washington State. My protagonist's journey adheres to actual locations; the book's frontispiece includes a fanciful map in which the mythic elements of the journey are tied to real places--the Frenchman Hills, Stray Horse Canyon, Lynch Coulee, Low Gap Pass.
A buttoned-up, tidied, and published novel is one thing, a writer's memory of the time and tenor of its writing another. When I think back on the era of East of the Mountains, I'm intensely fond and wistful simultaneously. In its service I roamed abroad with a notebook, mostly alone, mostly on foot, indulging the romance of the American west, and of the mountains of Italy, with unbridled zeal.
I can't go back again, but when I read East of the Mountains, I'm once again alive in that adventure, and can feel again an inkling of the exhilaration I felt in imagining this tale and in writing it.
Snow Falling on Cedars
Snow Falling on Cedars, my first novel, was published in 1994, and has since sold more copies and been published in more languages and versions than I can readily track. The film, released in 1999, starred Ethan Hawke and Max von Sydow.
Snow Falling on Cedars is a courtroom drama, a war novel, a love story, and a novel of place all rolled into one. Legitimate provender for the television show Jeopardy!, it also, on occasion, fills out a crossword puzzle, or lends itself to public wordplay. It has a modest life in cartoon drawings, in community theaters, as a photo caption, as fodder for high school video projects, and most wonderfully of all, among prominently banned books.
I'm sometimes asked how I feel about this novel, which is far and away the one I'm best known for. My answer: the way you might feel toward a house you used to live in. At this very moment I sense it out there, agitating 16 year-olds with papers due tomorrow on young love, war, prejudice, or justice. Which reminds me that I had them in mind when Snow Falling on Cedars was just notes in a teacher’s desk drawer. I wrote it for them, but it has found a rich life among a much broader audience.
Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense
In the 1980s, I found work as a freelance journalist and became a contributing editor at Harper's, where I published an essay on homeschooling. It caught the attention of an editor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, with whom I worked on a book-length expansion designed not to promote or espouse homeschooling but to examine and explore it.
Family Matters is in some ways personal--I was simultaneously a homeschooling parent and a public high school teacher while writing it. Mostly, though, it's a thorough look at homeschooling as one possibility among many in the education of children.
I'm not an advocate. Homeschooling has been exercised to ill effect. At the same time, handled deftly, it's a rich, fulfilling, and highly successful approach to educating children.
The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind
I started writing fiction in 1977--short stories exclusively, on the theory that the genre lent itself to trial and error. Ten years later, having published a handful of stories in literary periodicals and magazines, I put ten in an envelope and sent them out "over the transom," with a cover letter addressed to "Dear Editor."
After a couple of rejections, I got a phone call from an editor at Harper & Row. The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind was published in 1989--my first book.
The ten stories are stylistically diverse and various in voice and approach. Some were written in the basement of a house I rented for $75 a month, some in a mobile home, and one in a borrowed corner of a summer home overlooking a bay.
I've always liked the cover art on the original hardback jacket. Apparently the warehouse in which the majority of those hardbacks were housed burned to the ground, making them rare.
These stories are full of a romantic intensity. I was broadly influenced at the time of their writing and trying on voices and forms.