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Until I Find You by John Irving

Until I Find You (2005)

by John Irving

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Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Beginnings are hard. Endings are harder. And in the case of “Until I Find You,” both the beginning and the ending are quite rocky. The middle of the book, however (and in a novel of more than 800 pages, the middle is quite hefty) ...well, the middle is rather delightful. Reading this novel is like eating a gourmet sandwich beautifully crafted between slices of two-day old soggy bread.

It pains me to fault Mr. Irving for his apparent meandering in the first section of this novel and for the disappointment of the novel’s conclusion. To be fair, no imaginable ending could have lived up to the inevitability of this tale’s conclusion. Irving’s masterful storytelling throughout the bulk of the novel sabotages its own ending. An empathetic reader—and as a lifelong fan of Irving’s work, I consider myself forgiving to a fault—can happily overlook the seemingly random details of the novel’s opening section as their impact and significance emerges clearly through the development of Jack Burns, the novel’s protagonist. But the ending. Not even a writer of Irving’s talent could have wheedled his way out of the trap he set for himself.

This novel’s—and its main character’s—resemblance to numerous other Irving novels (most notably TS Garp in “The World According to Garp,” Homer Wells in “The Cider House Rules,” and Owen Meany in “A Prayer for Owen Meany”) is both its greatest strength and its most debilitating weakness. All of the hallmark Irving quirks and issues are there, but he’s handled them more artfully in those earlier novels. Jack—a budding actor with a talent for cross-dressing and a penchant for older women (who are, in fact, molesting him)—is an inscrutably complex character but almost certainly not the most likeable character in the novel. As he grows up without the guidance or support of a father, he becomes a true conundrum—an introverted actor.

Halfway through the novel, the narrative pivots dramatically (to provide more details would certainly spoil the plot), but suffice it to say that Jack shifts his focus from constructing identities and stories to reconstructing identities and stories—he realizes that everything he thought he knew about the most important people in his life was a mere narrative construct, and he sets about attempting to reconstruct those narratives in a search for truth—quite an ironic undertaking for a man whose profession relies on his ability to create convincing fictions.

In the end, Irving’s prose is—as ever—amusing and poignant (often at the same time), and this novel proves that he has regained his ability to weave a compelling tale around interesting characters, a skill that came into question in “The Fourth Hand,” the novel that preceded this one. While by no means his best work, “Until I Find You” demonstrates an imminent return to form for Irving—a form that I hope continues to evolve in his next novel. ( )
  jimrgill | Apr 15, 2017 |
Tattoo early life of actor. Tediously long beginning, may abort!
  MarilynKinnon | Jun 21, 2016 |
The story sprawls across Canada, a large part of Europe and the United States.

The first half of the narration follows a young Canadian actor named Jack Burns through his youth as he travels with his mother in search of his father through the subculture of tattoo artists. Like the title character in The World According to Garp and Irving himself, Jack finds a talent for wrestling and an extended family that aids and hinders him through his trials as a young man coming of age, including his sexual awakening and abuse as an adolescent.

The second half of the narrative sees Jack on the road to discovering the truth behind the misconceptions that his younger self had thought he understood.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I almost gave up on this book, it was very slow to start. I was sick and tired of reading about tattoos and who had them and where. Seriously it was almost a deal breaker. I'm glad I didn't give up, I'm a fan of Irving and I think the story was deep and touching. I finally bonded with Jack and was vested in how things turned out for him. My feelings were all over the place regarding the mother, I thought I understood her until Jack was an adult and then I just couldn't feel sorry for her anymore. Definitely worth the time if you can get past the tattooing. ( )
1 vote Nemorn | Sep 20, 2015 |
I had read John Irving's 'A widow for a year'about 8 years back and enjoyed it, so was encouraged to pick up 'Until I find you'when I saw it in the bookshelf of the Delhi Gymkhana Club library. Also, I was also intrigued by the blurb on the back cover, 'In this way, in increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us-- not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss', which seemed to capture the sadness of the story. So though it is a large book, more than 800 pages of small print, I opened it with a lot of anticipation.

But this book turned out to be a major disappointment. It is the story of a young boy whose mother is hunting for his father, accompanied by him through all the wanderings across various cities of Europe before eventually landing up in Canada and being admitted into a school for girls which nonetheless admitted boys till the 6th class.

The book attempts to be a modern version of the genre of storytelling epitomized in 'Tom Jones'. From the time he's 6 years old the protagonist is molested sexually by older girls and women. The major part of the book is about these kind of experiences. Though not sexually explicit or prurient, these repetitious experiences become boring after some time. Everything else, such as his admission into a boys boarding school at the age of 12, his talent for acting and eventual arrival in Hollywood to become a well known actor, are secondary to his sexual acts, in almost all of which, he is the victim at the hands of women. Apparently, these childhood experiences obstruct him from having a normal relationship with girls his own age, no matter how much he may be attracted to them. In fact, all relationships in this book are kinky, including his mother's with his girl friend Emma's mother.

I find it hard to believe that 15 year old girls would have any inclination to molest 6 year old boys. All such episodes appear to be a sham, written for shock effect, and not at all convincing. considering that there's hardly a plot, and the tale is straightforward, it is difficult to see why it had to be such a long book.

The finale in Zurich is the worst tripe I've read. It's not clear whether the author's trying to be funny, or sarcastic about sanatoriums and the doctors manning them. It just goes on and on and on. Even the twist in the story when the part played by his mother in distorting his memories of childhood and his father, doesn't catch the reader's interest or attention. By this time one just wants the book to be over and done with. ( )
  dragon178 | Nov 11, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
One of the problems with this novel is that Mr. Irving never finds a persuasive voice for narrating these events. The repeated acts of sexual abuse committed upon the prepubescent Jack play neither as awful, realistic acts of abuse nor as metaphorical, Grand Guignol encounters. As a result, the whole book is suffused with a smarmy but cartoonish aura: the reader is unable to sympathize with Jack as a poor abused child or to regard his experiences as some sort of farcical parable about the wicked ways of the world.
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What we, or at any rate what I, refer to confidently as memory -- meaning a moment, a scene, a fact that has been subjected to a fixative and thereby rescued from oblivion -- is really a form of storytelling that goes on continually in the mind and often changes with the telling. Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end. In any case, in talking about the past we lie with every breath we draw.

-- William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow
For my youngest son, Everett,

who made me feel young again.

With my fervent hope that when you're

old enough to read this story, you will

have had (or still be in the midst of)

an ideal childhood -- as different from

the one described here as anyone

could imagine.
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According to his mother, Jack Burns was an actor before he was an actor, but Jack's most vivid memories of childhood were those moments when he felt compelled to hold his mother's hand.
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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, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:59 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Until I find you is 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 is educated at schools in Canada and New England, but he is shaped by his relationships with older women. 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.… (more)

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