After almost three weeks of reading (among other things), I've finally finished John Irving's latest novel, Until I Find You. It's quite a tome, not only in length but in scope as well, as it tells the life story of Jack Burns, a successful actor and rather unhappy person, from age of about four until he's in his late 30s.
Much of the story of Jack's life is defined by what's missing, namely, his father, and the first half of the book roughly deals with this absence from his mother's point of view. But once Alice, a tattoo artist, dies, Jack goes about finding the truth about his life and his father, and not suprisingly, it's quite different from the tales she told him when he was small.
I'm not ashamed to admit how much I adore John Irving's writing. I count The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany among my all-time favourite novels. I've had more than one drunken bar argument over the fact that I believe that Irving might just be one of the greatest American writers alive. That's a lot of expectations to bring to his books, for sure. Of the latest novels, A Widow for One Year and The Fourth Hand, I wasn't as impressed, likening them to more the idea of midlife crisis on the page rather than the great books I know Irving is capable of writing. But in finding them weak, maybe, like so many books, it just wasn't the right time to read them. Who knows. And so when it came to read the over 800 pages of Until I Find You, I almost couldn't do it. What if it was more of the Fourth Hand Irving vs. the Owen Meany Irving?
Granted, it's the longest book I've read in forever, Until I Find You, pretty much held my interest to the end. I know Irving went on ad nauseam about how autobiographical the novel was, about how he plumed the depths of his own life in the writing of this book, and that turned some people off. But I find that was where the novel was excruciatingly human because Jack Burns, while preternaturally gorgeous, excessively talented, and utterly miserable, he's always a man searching for that essence of himself, that little bit of something that's going to explain why he's here or what he's supposed to be doing. And even though the novel could have been shorter, I didn't begrudge him the length, and I didn't even mind that he told and retold the same stories (each with differing perspectives because of Jack's age).
And not unlike Joan Clark's An Audience of Chairs, I found the ending so utterly satisfying that it was worth the weeks upon weeks of reading to get to. All in all, I think Irving absolutely deserves drunken defenses and consistent recommendations, and judging by what little I heard of his next novel last year at Harbourfront, I'm glad to see him find a bit more comfort with his words, because I, for one, couldn't tell that he'd written the last sentence first.