Ben is a retired cardio-thoracic surgeon, a widower, a man with terminal cancer. As the story opens, he is planning a last hunting trip during which he intends to commit suicide in order to spare his daughter and grandson the pain of watching him waste away. He is a meticulous planner, choosing to make his death look accidental but once he actually leaves for this final journey over the Cascade Mountains, even his elaborate and careful plans are turned upside down. After a car accident on his way to his chosen hunting grounds, Ben and his dogs set out to fulfill his intentions both traveling with others and traipsing through the countryside of his childhood on foot. During the journey, Ben recalls his own early years and meditates on the changes in the area around him.
Guterson has written beautifully of the Washington orchards and mountains. His portrayal of the various small towns through which Ben passes is consummate. And he captures the isolation and solitude of the area and of his main character. The pace of the novel is slow and measured and there are no loud and climactic moments as Ben wanders through the detailed landscape of his beginnings. This is not action-packed; rather it is a peripatetic and thoughtful journey about mortality and humanity. The narrative focuses almost solely on Ben and his internal life during the 48 hours which he has determined to be his last. The quiet flow of this story will not be for everyone but for those who are in no rush to overlook the beautiful descriptiveness contained within these pages, this is a haunting and melancholic read. Recommended with reservations.