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Probably John Irving's Worst Book
on September 1, 2005
This turgid lump of a novel continues the sad decline in Mr. Irving's work that we saw with <i> The Fourth Hand</i>. It was a chore to finish, and I would have given up, except that Mr. Irving has written so many great books, I kept expecting this one to get better or for something clever and great to happen. It really never does.
The story follows the life and career of Jack Burns, a successful movie actor with a troubled childhood. When the story opens, Jack is a child who has been abandoned by his father and living with his mother, a relatively famous tattoo artist. The stage seems set for the sort of quirky characters and situations which Mr. Irving writes so well. But what follows is a lot of stuff we've seen before, and in better Irving books: Jack spends time at an all boys school in Maine, he is a talented member of the wrestling team (in one of the smaller weight divisions), we journey through the Red Light District in Amsterdam not once, but twice.
But the books greatest weakness is that none of the characters act or talk like real people. John Irving has always been able to create unusual characters and make them credible. This does not happen here. Almost every woman young Jack meets wants to or does) rape him, every character seems to use the word 'penis' conversationally at least a dozen times and Jack Burns is the center of every other character's existence, no matter how trivial his contact with those characters has been.
Hardly anything seems to be credible. Jack's movies (which sound dreadful) are all successful, his companion Emma's novel (which sounds unreadable) is a huge hit. The sequence at the Academy Awards comes off as terribly self indulgent.
Stay away from this book. As Billy Rainbow might say, it blows, and not in a good way.