Saturday, July 15, 2006

Until I Find A Better Book

John Irving’s “Until I Find You” is one of those books that I basically enjoyed, but by the end was plowing through just trying to finish. Clocking in at 820 pages, I think it could’ve easily been cut by about 100.

What I kind of like about Irving is that though so many of his novels are adapted into films, he doesn’t write “cinematic” books. Someone like Dan Brown, for example, writes books so specifically written to be turned into movies that he is essentially writing screenplays (albeit poorly-written screenplays, in Brown’s case). Not Irving. The 820-page length is daunting enough, but then he throws in all sorts of weird sexual stuff and multiple scenes of sexual abuse of a child. It’s like Irving is throwing down a gauntlet and daring some director to turn the book into a watered-down popcorn flick, like they did in turning A Prayer for Owen Meany into ‘Simon Birch.’

The book hit many of Irving’s usual themes. Wrestling? Check. Locales in Amsterdam’s red light district, Toronto and Germany? Life at a small New England college? Check. Loads of weird sexual stuff? Triple checks in this one --- I generally like John Irving, but man, the dude’s got some issues.

Come to think of it, do I actually like John Irving? Owen Meany was a classic, A Widow for One Year was very good, and his short story collection was good. Other than those, I’m not sure any of this other books rank above ‘basically enjoyed’ with me. This is weird, since I’ll still go out of my way to read his work.

Here’s the Irving countdown…

1. Owen Meany
2. Widow for One Year (though even this really lets up after the first third)
3. Trying to Save Piggy Snead
4. The World According to Garp
5. The Fourth Hand
6. Until I Find You
7. Hotel New Hampshire (I swear, I don’t remember a thing about this book aside from the fact that it was about some wacky family that operated the hotel, and two of the kids ended up having sex. I’m not sure what was more terrifying; the incest of the fact that in the movie version, the kids are played by Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe)
8. The Cider House Rules (this book was boring as hell. I wish Irving had aborted it in its second trimester)
9. The 158-Pound Marriage (Irving’s third novel, and it just isn’t good. Irving himself admits he didn’t really become a good novelist until Garp, which is basically a fictional account of his early writing career....hopefully without the freaky sexual stuff.)

So it’s not a great batting average in terms of “books I’ll enjoy forever,” but Irving can still bring it. I like that I never know where there the hell he’s going with his stories, which is refreshing. He’s one of the few truly creative novelists out there who are ‘creative’ without being pretentiously horrible. Margaret Atwood, I’m looking in your direction – you still owe me the hours of my life I spent reading The Edible Woman in OAC English.

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