Avenue of Mysteries
By John Irving
Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781451664164, November 2015, 480pp.
The Short of It:
A whirling, and at times totally surreal look at memory and how it shapes who we are.
The Rest of It:
This was a very strange story! I know some of Irving’s books are a little strange but it took me many chapters to wrap my brain around these characters and what was going on with them. That said, I am not even sure I understood exactly what was going on until the very, very end. But, I will attempt to share my feelings about it here.
Juan Diego and his sister Lupe are “dump kids” and live in a Mexican orphanage. Juan Diego is a bright kid but much of his waking hours are spent translating for Lupe because Lupe speaks a language that no one understands, except for Juan Diego. Plus, Lupe can read minds. Many times she spouts off about what is happening leaving Juan Diego “in the know” but unable to really let others know that he is “in the know” because much of what Lupe says is inappropriate in nature.
The story alternates between Juan Diego’s “dump kid” days and the present day, where he is a writer on a trip to the Philippines. In the present day, he meets a mother / daughter duo at the airport and they sort of set the stage for what’s to come. They are very mysterious and nothing they do really makes any sense but Juan Diego is strung out on Viagra and Beta Blockers so as a reader you never really know what’s real and what’s not. Plus, memory plays such a large role in this novel. He spends much of his trip remembering his sister and his dump kid days.
I had a really hard time with Lupe. Her dialogue is all one-sided, since no one but Juan Diego can understand her but she has this wild, crude side to her that makes her very animal-like. She’s an interesting character but not one that I could really figure out or relate to.
Juan Diego was more likable, but he too was a bit of a mystery with his bag of drugs at the ready. And the strange mother / daughter duo of Miriam and Dorothy who, in my opinion, provided some much-needed comedy to the mix seemed to come and go without explanation. At the end of the book, you learn why. Juan Diego is really a very tortured soul. His story is very sad at times.
A lot of people will pick this book up and give up on it. It’s REALLY hard to get into and I considered putting it down more than once. I mean, it took me weeks to read it and it wasn’t until the 50% mark on my Kindle that I really began to understand it and yes… like it. So, if you are reading it now, then keep reading it and if you haven’t picked it up yet because of the mixed reviews, give it a shot but don’t hold it up against his other books or you will be disappointed.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
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