John Irving’s Twenty Year Sentence
John Irving is the author of twelve books, including “The World According to Garp,” “A Prayer For Owen Meany,” and most recently, “Last Night on Twisted River.” Over his career he has won a National Book Award, an Academy Award for his adaptation of “The Cider House Rules,” and many other honors, and has been translated into over thirty languages. A former competitive wrestler, he splits his time between Vermont and Montreal.
Question: How long was “Last Night in Twisted River” in your head?
John Irving: Well, for twenty years, my wife argues more than twenty years, but I have trouble remembering more than twenty years, for twenty years at least, this story about a cook and his pre-teenage son has been in my mind. Surprisingly I knew quite a lot about this story, as long as twenty years ago, but not enough to really get started. I began and finished several novels that have been in my mind not nearly as long because in their cases, the last sentences came to me and as you probably know, I never begin a novel until I've written that last sentence. In twelve novels, not even the punctuation in those last sentences has changed and once I get that last sentence, I can manage to make a kind of road map of the story, find my way back to where I think the book should begin. That's just been my process and continues to be my process.
But in this book's case, there was something missing from what I knew and I couldn't, for the longest time, I couldn't get that ending clearly in mind, although I knew a lot about the story. I knew these two men were fugitives. I knew they would be on the run for fifty years. I knew that the story began in a kind of frontier-justice sort of place, one law, a bad cop. I knew it was close to the Canadian border. And most of all, I knew why the cook had this twelve-year-old boy, because by the end of the novel, I knew that kid would have become a writer and it would turn out that he was actually writing the very story we've been reading. That may seem like a lot to know to not get started, but I saw that there were things that had been kept from this boy that he didn't know and I didn't know what those things were.
Question: Are there other sentences in your work that seem equally important?
John Irving: Well, there are certain sentences along the way that seem pivotal, or fragments of sentences. There are certain phrases that I see as being of use somewhere in a story. Sometimes actual chapter titles, sometimes locations. It's not a very elaborate road map, it's really a bunch of Post-It notes that either are on the wall in front of me or on the desktop where I work so that I can put my finger on any one of those signposts when I feel the need to. It's basically the skeleton of the story, it's the action of the novel. When did the characters meet? Do their paths cross again? Do they live? Do they die? If they die, when, where, how? Those kinds of things.
Recorded on: October 30, 2009
For even our best writers, penning that final sentence can be a difficult and tortuous affair. For John Irving, who never begins a novel without knowing its concluding words, this sentence took two decades to come into form.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
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