Title: The Other
Author: David Guterson
Two boys from profoundly different backgrounds—John William Barry, the wealthy scion of two elite Seattle families, and the blue-collar Irish Neil Countryman—brought together by their fierce love of the natural world, grow up to pursue vastly different paths in life, Neil as a devoted schoolteacher, and John William, a recluse seeking refuge in the wilderness.
Amazon Best of the Month, June 2008: When John William Barry and Neil Countryman meet at a high school track meet in the early 1970s, they are two sides of the same coin: John is a trust fund baby and student of a prestigious private school while Neil is solidly working class, but they share an affinity for the outdoors and apprehension over impending changes in their lives. After an unintentionally challenging week lost in the wilds of the North Cascades, John is compelled to an ascetic path: life in a remote river valley in the Olympic Peninsula rainforest, where he chips a shelter from a granite wall and immerses himself in the esoterica of Gnostic dualism —a philosophy that holds that the material world is illusional and destructive. Neil meanwhile chooses a traditional path as a father and school teacher, despite his troubled friend’s exhortations to eschew “hamburger world” and find truth in a simpler, stripped-down existence. Nothing is that simple, of course, and The Other compellingly explores the compromises we make to balance meaning and security in our lives through the choices (and their subsequent consequences) of these two men. —Jon Foro