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Archive for the ‘John Irving’ Tag

Street Cred   1 comment

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Full disclosure: I’m a John Irving fan. However, at around page 39, in Avenue of Mysteries, I wondered if he’d lost his touch. Before I knew it, I was on page 100 and realized I had nothing to worry about Irving’s storytelling mastery.

Fourteen-year-old Juan Diego and his younger sister, Lupe, are dump kids in Oaxaca, Mexico. That is, they live and work among the trash heaps where garbage is sorted, saved and burned. Through books he’s salvaged, Juan Diego has taught himself to read and learn English. He also serves as translator for Lupe, whose words are unintelligible to everyone else. What she lacks in comprehensibility, she compensates for in her mindreading ability. She’s no fortune teller. Although she has a sense of what will happen, she knows peoples’ histories.

The narrative moves between Juan Diego’s youth and his adult self, a successful writer living in the U.S., who visits the Philippines. Juan Diego’s dreams reveal his past: the dump, the Catholic Church, his mother (the prostitute and cleaning woman for the church), the would-be priest from Iowa and the circus, among many other elements. It wouldn’t be John Irving without the numerous components and the way they intersect.

As he travels, Juan Diego’s state of mind is manipulated by the medication he takes and forgets to take, as he meets Miriam and Dorothy, introduced as mother and daughter. The relationships with the women and a former student are complicated and interesting, but not nearly as engaging as Juan Diego’s earlier life.

Avenue of Mysteries
Four Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2015
460 pages

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Wrestling With Sexuality   9 comments

Similar themes, character types and unusual situations find their way to John Irving novels. His latest, In One Person, is no exception. Despite these commonalities, it’s an original look at acceptance and the secrets families hide in plain view, particularly when it comes to sex. The most covert issue is the sexuality of young Billy Abbott, the protagonist/narrator. Billy struggles with this; it’s also something family members have insight into but refuse to reveal – hoping they’re wrong. Yet all around him are mixed messages, from Billy’s loveable cross-dressing grandfather to the cruel teenage wrestling superstar. Billy’s story spans more than 50 years, and it’s clear his family’s hopes were dashed. Billy isn’t gay, he’s bi-sexual, but that’s not what they’re hiding.

Among the characters populating Irving’s novel are angry mothers (several), wrestlers (many), and transgenders (numerous, although Billy’s generation used the term transsexuals). A residential boys school in rural Vermont  – another typical Irving element – is among the settings. Perhaps the strongest of the similarities is the power of friendship. Billy’s true friends are an eccentric bunch with shared worries. The complicated town librarian (my favorite character) probably knows Billy best.

The novel is like a one-sided conversation Billy has with the reader. Billy repeats some details, tells some things out of sequence and offers a few teasers. As in his other work, Irving’s irony and descriptive writing prevail.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is not just my favorite book by Irving, it’s one of my favorite books by anyone. In One Person is not on that pedestal, but it’s close.

In One Person
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Simon & Schuster, 2012
425 pages