Thursday, May 5th, 2016
The Short Take:
Irving’s newest is interesting but ultimately disappointing. His story of Juan Diego, a Mexican-American writer who dreams of his childhood in Mexico while traveling in the Philippines, somehow doesn’t work; though it’s hard to put your finger on why. I would only recommend it if you truly love John Irving. I do.
John Irving is one of my all-time favorite authors and this novel is very much in his over-the-top style, with many of his typical references: writers, missing parents, deadly accidents, prostitutes, circuses, abortion, transexuals, along with a plethora of italics and exclamation points.
All this — and a lot more — is window dressing for a string of events that puts the main character’s past memories and present activities on a collision course. But there are so many minor themes and distractions that any major point gets lost in the mishmash.
You have dogs, multiple virgin Marys, a pair of women who manipulate Juan Diago but don’t appear in mirrors or photos, his juggled medical prescriptions, geckos, garbage dumps, miracles, cremation and ashes, draft dodgers, AIDS. Whew!
It’s diverting, but also off-putting. Plus, it’s hard to accept the posited idea that memories of the past matter more when you get older. Especially when Juan Diego is experiencing a present much livelier than his previous adult life.
If you want to love John Irving, read A Prayer for Owen Meany or The World According to Garp. Leave this one for last.
A Little Plot:
At 64, the writer Juan Diego takes a trip to the Philippines to fulfill a childhood promise. But he spends much of his trip in a dream-like state reliving his childhood. And, that’s just the beginning.
That childhood forms a parallel narrative. At 14, he was a dump kid and self-taught reader with a sister who could read thoughts but spoke a language only he understood. An unfortunate accident left him with a limp which sent them both to a Jesuit orphanage. And, that’s just the beginning.
For more about Irving, this book and his other works, click here.