David Guterson’s The Other is a very compelling tale about Neil Countryman and John William Barry, two best friends with completely different life paths that briefly intersect when they first meet at a high-school track meet and is sustained by their love of the outdoors. Guterson does a masterful job telling the stories of both men through Neil who recounts his own life and pieces together John William’s with the assistance of people such as his father, college girlfriend, and an attorney.
Neil is from a working-class family, and the first from it to go to college. He backpacked through Europe, where he met his future wife, and returned to be a high-school English 27 years and raise two boys. John William is “the privileged boy who would later become ‘the hermit of the Hoh’.” He was obsessed with Gnosticism and turned off by modern life of the ‘70s, so he dropped out of college and society, secluding himself in a cave in the forests of Washington and allowing his family to think he ran away to Mexico. Neil makes frequent visits and brings supplies for a time, but has his own life to live as well.
The story’s timeline is non-linear, so the reader learns early on that John William dies, leading to Neil becoming a local celebrity and an extremely wealthy man. Guterson creates mystery and suspense as the reader anticipates when and how the key events will play out.
As Neil, who wishes to be a published writer, is jealous of Raymond Carver while reading Will You Be Quiet, Please? Guterson induces the same effect. He has a many talents as a writer. His characters are complex and in just a few paragraphs the personalities and traits are quickly conveyed; yet he is still able to surprise with revelations explaining behaviors. His attention to detail creates vivid scenes easy to visualize from the expanse of Washington wilderness to small, intimate moments shared by couples.