Two boys meet in a track race in which narrator Neil, poor and striving, loses by a hair's breadth to John, cushioned by a private education and a family fortune. Their friendship develops during hikes through the wilds of Washington State, fuelled by dope and sealed, naturally, by mingling their blood. While Neil becomes a "loyal citizen of the hamburger world" with a wife, dull academic job and aspirations to write a novel, John retreats into Gnosticism and a search for self-sufficiency, eventually persuading Neil to help him disappear.
Guterson packs contrasting materialist and survivalist archetypes into his characters' rucksacks and marks out the narrative trail with signposts to Hemingway, Kerouac and Mark Twain, which - with hard-wrought descriptions - can make The Other a slog. But, as on any trek, there are moments when the landscape opens up into breathtaking perspective. When Guterson wittily exposes the insecurities, compromises and delusions that make up America's myths of itself, he makes the hike worthwhile.