cover image East of the Mountains

East of the Mountains

David Guterson / Author Random House Audio Publishing Group $2

Widower Ben Givens, a retired heart surgeon, has colon cancer. He plans one last hunting trip to the beloved Washington State orchard country of his boyhood, just him and his dogs--at the end of which he plans to kill himself. After all, he's a man who understands ""the mortality of human beings."" That's the tear-jerking setup of Guterson's follow-up to Snow Falling on Cedars, his acclaimed debut novel (and a big hit on audio). As Givens's simple plan goes unexpectedly awry--he crashes his car on a mountain road--he is led on an amazing soul-affirming odyssey. He is rescued by a beautiful young couple in their VW bus who ask nothing of him but his respect. Next, a journeyman hobo gives him marijuana to ease his cancer pain (and, as it turns out, expand his spiritual consciousness). Alone in the woods at last, he has a life-and-death showdown with a rogue landowner. Finally, his emergency doctoring skills are called on by Mexican migrant workers. The story, with its crisp action, works well on audio, coming across foremost as an adventure. Veteran narrator Herrmann plays up the sage qualities of his hero without milking the easy pathos of the situation too heavily. Simultaneous release with the Harcourt Brace hardcover. (Apr.)