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Until I Find You (2005)
by John Irving
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345479726, Paperback)At over 800 pages, John Irving's Until I Find You is a daunting proposition at best. Anyone who finishes it will have acquired forearm muscles, sore shoulders, and not much else. The story is self-indulgent, repetitive and, ultimately, boring, that cardinal sin that readers can't forgive. Longtime Irving readers have stayed with him through a few hits and a miss or two, but this is an all-time low. We are accustomed to Irving's work as quirky, bizarre, and off-the-wall and have forgiven all by calling such high-jinks and characters "imaginative" or "absolutely original." The only thing original about this tome is the descent into soft porn.
Jack Burns, the hero of the tale, is four years old when it all begins. He is the illegitimate son of Daughter Alice, a tattoo artist and, guess what, daughter of a tattoo artist. She takes Jack on a pilgrimage to find his womanizing father, William, a church organist and "ink addict." By seeking out church organs and tattoo parlors, she expects to find him. She doesn't, and by now we have spent more than a hundred pages in Northern European cities doing an imitation of Groundhog Day. Same story, different day: a little prostitution for Alice, a few questions asked; alas, no daddy.
Alice and Jack return to Toronto so that Jack may enter a previously all-girls school, which will admit little boys for the first time. There begins another 200 pages of the girls and the teachers abusing Jack, over and over again. By now, he is five and is, for some unfathomable reason, eminently interesting to girls and women. His "friend" Emma keeps careful track of "the little guy," as she calls Jack's penis, looking for signs of life. The worst part of all this is that none of it is funny or sad or even clever. There are wrestling vignettes, of course, and prep school tedium, but no bears. Maybe bears would have saved it. There were funny parts in The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules as well as poignant, horrific parts in both of those and other Irving novels. This story is flat. The voice never changes; it just drones on.
Jack becomes an actor. First, he is a boy in drag because he is so pretty, then he takes transvestite parts. He and Emma, now a published novelist, live together in LA, which provides endless opportunity for name-dropping. His career eventually takes off and he gets recognition and awards, but still no daddy. Irving, it turns out, never knew his father, either. Perhaps this exercise will exorcise that demon once and for all and Irving's next book will be about something more compelling than a little boy's penis and his trashy mother's antics. If you do make it through to the book's snapper of an ending, you deserve to find out what it is on your own. Call it a reward. --Valerie Ryan
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 14 Feb 2013 13:36:11 -0500)
The story of the actor Jack Burns. His mother, Alice, is a Toronto tattoo artist. When Jack is four, he travels with Alice to several North Sea ports; they are trying to find Jack's missing father, William, a church organist who is addicted to being tattooed. But Alice is a mystery, and William can't be found. Even Jack's memories are subject to doubt. Jack Burns goes to schools in Canada and New England, but what shapes him are his relationships with older women. John Irving renders Jack's life as an actor in Hollywood with the same richness of detail and range of emotions he uses to describe the tattoo parlors in those North Sea ports and the reverberating music Jack heard as a child in European churches.
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