"The Other" by David Guterson

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While I was reading it and afterward, I could not escape the notion that "The Other" by David Guterson deals with a shadow character, a rumored extension of the first-person narrator, a superego. Neil Countryman, our narrator, makes the acquaintance of John William Barry, the eponymous Other, during a half-mile race in high school. They become close friends, and Barry's character becomes clearer over time, and over time it becomes more and more intolerant.

Barry is a young man of considerable abilities who holds himself and everyone else to outrageous standards. He's an over-the-top idealist who depends on Neil to keep him in contact with the outside world. In fact, at length he separates himself from the rest of the world by going to live in a remote cave on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. From this height he comes to depend completely on the down-to-earth aid Neil can and does give him. Eventually a snowstorm prevents Neil from bringing up the needed food and supplies, and when he finally gets to the Other's cave, he finds him dead. Later, when the authorities finally find him, Neil discovers he is the sole heir to Barry's very considerable estate, hundreds of millions.

This is one of those stories that provokes the highest kind of speculation in me. As I ponder the relationship of the two men, how irresistible it is to think how the uncompromising idealist-hermit represents the higher, more virtuous plane, and how living on that plane necessarily alienates you from society. Our earth-bound narrator eventually receives a mind-boggling financial legacy - isn't it something like learning what true virtue is - in the sense that it is of inestimable value?

David Guterson has produced a masterpiece, a novel for the ages. His prose, as always, is wonderful, and is one aspect of the book that stirred these deep thoughts in me. Each sentence and paragraph serves the higher shining truth - is an exhibit of supporting evidence. I think he ranks as the finest living American author - alongside Marilynne Robinson. If you seriously read fiction, read this.
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