After a tragic mistake leads to an accidental murder in a New Hampshire logging camp, a father and son spend their lives running from a vengeful husband. In 1954, Twisted River is a small logging camp in upstate New Hampshire. Dominic is the camp's cook, and he juggles his time between his work, looking after his 12-year-old son Daniel (whose mother died after falling through the ice and drowning when Daniel was two), and an increasingly time-consuming affair with Injun Jane, the girlfriend of Constable Carl, the local sheriff and an abusive drunk.
Everything in Dominic's life seems to be in a precarious balance, until one night Daniel mistakes the three hundred pound Jane for a bear in the act of attacking his father and kills her with an iron skillet. In a panic, Dominic and Daniel hide the body at Carl's and hope that when the blacked out Carl wakes in the morning, he will think that he accidentally killed Jane himself. But even so, Dominic decides they can't take the chance; he takes his son and they flee.
They change their names and spend several years working odd jobs at various restaurants. Meanwhile, Daniel, now in school, proves himself to be a gifted student and a budding writer. While in college, Daniel begins his first novel and marries Katie, an art student with whom he has a son named Joe. Katie, though, informs Daniel that, with the Vietnam War in full swing, she only married him to make him an "undraftable" father. She then proceeds to abandon the marriage to go "save" more men by making them fathers.
Daniel moves to Vermont with his son and proceeds to write a series of increasingly successful novels. His father joins him in Vermont and opens his own restaurant. Dominic remains in contact with a friend, Ketchum, back in New Hampshire, who tells them that, after a chance run in at the restaurant, Carl not only knows they killed Jane but he now knows where they are. Dominic, Daniel, and Joe abandon Vermont and move to Toronto, hoping to stay one step ahead of Carl.
In Toronto, things settle back into a comforting routine. They buy a house, Dominic finds a new restaurant, and Daniel even falls in love again, this time with a fellow writer named Charlotte. But after Joe dies in a car accident, he is too heartbroken, and him and Charlotte go their separate ways.
Unbeknownst to Dominic and Daniel, though, Ketchum, who has remained in contact with the Dominic in Toronto, has gotten sloppy with their secret and accidentally lets Carl know where their new house is. Despite all the years that have passed, Carl has never forgiven them for Jane's death. In the climax of the novel, Carl shows up at the house with a gun and kills Dominic, but is then killed in turn by Daniel. When Ketchum learns that it was his mistake that led to both deaths, he proceeds to commit suicide.
With all these deaths hanging over him, Daniel, now alone, tries to refocus himself on his writing. But the words just won't come. It's only when, at last, he is reunited with a woman he met years before, and he allows himself to find some semblance of happiness with her, does Daniel find inspiration to begin writing his final autobiographical novel. This final novel, it is strongly implied, is the very book we've been reading.
Best part of story, including ending:
The overarching novel-within-a-novel structure is, on reflection, a little gimmicky, but it doesn't take away from the emotional draw of Daniel's life story.
Best scene in story:
The scene where Daniel mistakes the overweight Jane for a bear is both hilariously ridiculous and horribly tragic at the same time.
Opinion about the main character:
Daniel was a strong, likeable character, faults and all.