"The Water Method Man" could easily be renamed "John Irving's Frankenstein". Bits of first-person and third-person narration, a movie script, and an Old Low Norse epic are patched together to form a book at times funny and other times almost unreadable. The end product is entertaining and probably too clever for its own good.
The story focuses on Fred "Bogus" Trumper, the shallow, immature man who fails at one marriage, almost fails at another relationship, becomes the subject of a mockumentary, and undergoes painful surgery to correct a rather sensitive defect (hence the title of the book). Throughout the tangled web of narratives, Bogus eventually grows up a little and is perhaps on the way to becoming a good husband and father.
For fans of Irving, this earlier work contains all the elements of any of his novels--Vienna, prostitutes, New England (everything except a bear). Having read the author's memoirs I know that at least some of the material is based loosely on Irving's own experiences. There are more humorous elements in this book than later ones like "The Cider House Rules" or "Prayer for Owen Meany"; I would say "Water Method" is the funniest of the Irving novels I've read to date.
The writing, the characters, the story are all vintage Irving--there's no point in discussing those. The problem is HOW the story is told. The setting changes so much that as a reader it's hard to get into the flow of the book until it's almost over. There were many times when I thought about just giving up and putting it back on the shelf, but I pressed ahead and--like Ian McEwan's "Atonement"--my patience was rewarded with a story that when pieced together is humorous and a little touching (for an Irving novel). Other readers, I suspect, would have less patience waiting for everything to come together.
Should you read this book? Yes and No. If you're an Irving fan, then definitely Yes. If you've never read the author before or didn't like what you read by him, then No. I still recommend "Cider House Rules", "World According to Garp", and "Son of the Circus" as my favorites, but "Water Method" is up there in the pantheon of Irving novels.