Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Until I Find You by John Irving

Regular readers know that John Irving is in my pantheon of the best modern writers ever (rest of the complete list: Stephen King, David Foster Wallace, and Dean Koontz - yes there are others, but these are the ones I never pass up).

I took my time with his latest, Until I Find You, because it demands nothing less. I usually plow through books - even complex ones - in a week or two, but this one ended up taking 3/4 of a year.

I think that helped my appreciation for it, because to be honest it is a bit dull. On top of that, sometimes Irving's fantastic writing style would lapse for pages on end, leaving you adrift in story detail without the engine of wordsmithery to pull you through. Often it was uphill both ways in the snow.

What went wrong you suppose? Well, my guess is that Irving can't do autobiographical when it's too close to the bone. I mean, "Garp" surely had a lot of autobiography, but had enough other stuff to create the needed distance. Irving admits through the many interviews he gave that Jack is essentially him.

Perhaps it's also due to the fact that many many writers are good at one thing but not another. Frinstance, as much as I love Cintra Wilson's snarky reporting, her first novel was abysmal. To that end, maybe Irving just can't do autobiography.

I still enjoyed the novel more often than I didn't, but I think that can be chalked up to the fact that I'm a fan. So, that's my take: For fans only.

And even fans might find it a bit much, so let me give you a cheat. After you read the first chapter, you can skip ahead and pick up the novel in section 3 (whose title escapes me), where Jack enters school. The only thing you really need to know that's not covered yet again later in the book is that "sleeping in the needles" means that the tattooist has to sleep in their tattoo parlor for whatever reason. The only thing that's covered in the first two sections are Jack's memories of searching for his father with his mother, which you cover again near the end. The only fun in having read the first two parts is how Jack's childhood memories differ from the truth. However, those differences are spelled out in the later chapters, so you don't miss anything but some interesting deja vu by skipping the beginning.

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