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Monday, February 13, 2012
3:11 pm est
Today was not a good day.
I was rudely awakened quite
early this morning by the loud rumblings of a big truck idling in my side yard. Two men beside it shouted to each other over
the engine noise and argued about how to trim the top-most branches whose ends were starting to rub against the eaves of my
house. When I asked the landscapers to trim them, I gave explicit instructions how it should be done. However, it was painfully
obvious—more so to the tree than to myself—that the men this morning did not know what they were doing. Instead
of just lopping off the tip points, they cruelly sawed two major, large branches off the trunk of what I estimate is a 65
to 70-year-old stately oak, effectively ruining the tree. All they had to do was lop off the small twiggy ends, as I had originally
suggested. It was if you asked your doctor to treat an ingrown toenail and he amputated your whole leg. Not only is the tree
ruined, but the truck left huge, muddy tire ruts in the lawn, and the aluminum siding on my house is now scratched, a damage
that was to be prevented, in the first place, by the trimming of the tree. Give someone who has no clue what they are doing
a gas-motored power saw and they are liable to destroy just about everything in sight.
And that is essentially
how I felt about reading Until I Find You by John Irving. A little too much, when less could have been more.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am basically
a fan of most of Irving's novels: A Prayer for Owen Meany , Last Night in Twisted River: A Novel , The World According to Garp (Modern Library) , and The Hotel New Hampshire (Ballantine Reader's Circle) , most of which are rich and full of complex, true-to-life characters and plausible plot lines. But in Until I Find You, I found the convolutions, especially towards the end of the book—which, incidentally,
I just couldn't bring myself to finish—a bit to much to take. Much like whole branches of a tree sawed off when only
the tips should have been clipped. I had read Last Night in Twisted River
over this past summer, had thorough enjoyed it, and was intrigued to discover Irving again after a number of years not reading
him. When I found a paperback1 copy of Until I Find You on-line
last fall, I was ready to settle in for a few days of continuing the re-acquaintance. However...
the book was first released in hard cover, touted this as Irving's best novel so far. Well, it did start out that way. The
beginning, as we are introduced to the main protagonist, Jack Burns, and his mother, Alice, in Toronto, promised yet another
great Irving read. And, so, I settled in for the afternoon. We started with Jack's early years and we learned a bit about
Alice, a tattoo artist, who takes her son on a journey to the Baltic and North Sea ports to find his missing father, William,
an organist addicted to tattoos. Slightly plausible, at best; but nonetheless intriguing. What we do discover, however, as
we travel along with the mother and son from city to city, with Alice plying her trade—both surprisingly and disappointingly
as a tattoo artist and as a loose woman—in various cities, hotels, and tattoo parlors, are increasing convolutions of
plot lines and characters, some of which and whom seem to be contrived for the sake of moving the plot along, others for the
sake of simple sensationalism.
In earlier Irving works, his allusions to and descriptions of sex were indigenous
to the characters and the context; but, in this novel, the erotica is over-the top and triflely and tritely over done—a bit too much for me to take in. Less of it would have added
more intrigue; so much of it smothered my more literary reading sensibilities. And to top it all off, as I continued reading
about his life—and often met whom I call the most insidious people in it—I grew less and less found of Jack to
the point when I wanted to reach in through the pages and shake him out of his smug, filth-ridden melancholy. Maybe this is
what the author intended—to rile up the reader's
ire. And maybe Jack does redeem himself in the end. I don't know and, since I slammed the book shut a little more than a third
of the way through, I did not find out.
Maybe other readers will find this, the eleventh fictional offering of
Irving, more to their taste and proclivities. However, in my mind, there are just some days and some books that just don't
turn out the way you'd expect. This is one of them.
1© 2006 Ballantine Trade Paperback Edition.
Originally published in hardback in 2005 by The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York,
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of
Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World
Rainbow in the Sky
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her sixth novel.