Writers I revere: John Irving
After reading almost exclusively nonfiction until I was nearly 30, I switched to fiction around 1988 and haven’t looked back. It was to my great fortune that one of the first novels I picked up, and then could not put down, was John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was a revelation.
I’d been looking for a comic novel, but soon discovered that this was a hybrid. In the same page, I could laugh out loud and then plunge into an emotional abyss. The virtuoso juxtaposition of humour and pathos gave Irving’s words depth and heft. This was no light beach read yet the stretches of melancholy were skillfully and beautifully offset by moments of unalloyed hilarity. I was hooked.
I finished Owen Meany, reluctantly, and then rushed out to purchase every other Irving work I could find. So I moved next to The World According to Garp, which I loved. It had the same offbeat blend of humour and pathos that kept the pages turning well into the wee hours. Then, Hotel New Hampshire. Another great read, though not quite as captivating as Garp and Owen Meany. Then another hit – The Cider House Rules. Loved it.
It seems I’m a sucker for vulnerable, endearing characters on a quest. And can Irving ever write.
But I must confess that the after Cider House Rules, Irving’s next few offerings didn’t quite do it for me. I devoured The Son of the Circus, A Widow for One Year, and The Fourth Hand, but found that they didn’t have the same impact on me as did Garp, Meany, and Cider House. I enjoyed them but wasn’t flattened as I had been by his earlier books. Perhaps I was becoming inured to this master’s writing. No I don’t think so.
Last year, I read his most recent work, Until I Find You, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt like I was reading an early Irving novel again.Â Irving has admitted that this is his most autobiographical novel. Again, his familiar formula, brilliantly executed. A young boy coming of age, on a journey replete with twists and turns, ups and downs, humour and emotional body blows, and all written with extraordinary power and subtlety.
Regrettably, there can be many years between Irving novels, which is a very long time for his fans to wait. But the good news is, his latest novel, Last Night in Twisted River, is due to hit bookstore shelves on October 20th. It’s a date that’s marked in my calendar.
Here’s a recent conversation John Irving had with the editor of the New York Times Book Review, Sam Tanenhaus on the NYTBR weekly podcast.