Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Until I Find You

John Irving

Black Swan 2005

John Irvings prose has always been pedestrian, but in the past hes compensated with memorable characters and inventive plots. The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, A Son of the Circus and others were fun to read, original, and moving without being sentimental. Until I Find You, however, is a slog. It could easily lose a third of its 900 pages; there is too much unnecessary detail, and he often repeats plot elements for us, as if we were inattentive children. The usual Irving themes dominate: parenting, mortality, sex and love. Unfortunately, here he doesnt offer any fresh insights, and his protagonist is a bit of a whiner.

Jack Burns has been raised by his mother, and taught from birth that his father is a no-good, run-around playboy who abandoned them. The novels chief narrative path is Jacks search for his dad. Meanwhile, everyone else in his life gives him a hard time, and unsurprisingly, he grows up emotionally stunted. Being a really handsome movie star with a penchant for cross-dressing probably doesnt help his relationships either.

With adulthood comes the discovery that his perceptions of his parents are wildly inaccurate. His mother, for instance, has been lying through her teeth. It all gets dangerously close to some kind of Oprah confessional, as Jack goes into therapy and wonders why hes such a mess. As Philip Larkin so astutely pointed out, They f*** you up, your mum and dad, so get over it, Big Boy! The ending is group-hug territory, and by the time I finally reached it, my main emotion was relief that it was over. Closure (of the covers) at last!

On the positive side, there are occasional examples of Irvings trademark humour, and his delight in the absurdity of being human. Jacks mother is an itinerant tattoo artist, and I loved the description of all the freaks, bikers and illustrated men who turn up at her funeral. Movie fans may also find his comments on Hollywood entertaining.

Irving can be an imaginative, compassionate writer, but Until I Find You only demonstrates these qualities intermittently.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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