Tag Archives: John Irving

Review: Avenue of Mysteries

Avenue of Mysteries

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.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany
By John Irving
(William Morrow & Company, Paperback, April 2012, 9780062204097)

The Short of It:

If the definition of a classic is a book that stands the test of time…then A Prayer for Owen Meany is just that.

The Rest of It:

First published in 1989, A Prayer for Owen Meany tells the story of John Wheelright and his best friend Owen Meany. The story takes place in a small New England town by the name of Gravesend, New Hampshire. The town itself is fictional, but it is probably a good representation of any small town during the 1950-60’s. Everyone knows everyone and life seems pretty simple. However, all that changes for the boys when a baseball, hit by Owen, strikes John’s mother in the head.

I read this book when it first came out and I remember liking it quite a bit. Irving is known for his quirky, eccentric characters and this book is no exception. However, it wasn’t until my recent reread that I truly realized how wonderful this book is. It’s funny, smartly written and it reminds you of simpler times when kids were kids and friendships meant everything. Every time I opened the book, it felt like coming home.

Owen, is such an odd little boy. He’s very small for his age, exceedingly wise and has a knack for getting to the root of a problem. He’s brutally honest and has a voice that can break glass, yet he seems to be well liked and respected by those who know him.

The story is told from John’s point of view and although he’s often the more stable of the two, it’s really Owen who proves to be the voice of reason. Owen’s “wisdom” comes in the form of visions and hunches which John puts up with for the most part, but Owen sees himself as an instrument of God and although this often gets Owen into a world of trouble, John senses that there is something to what Owen is saying.

The story follows them as they grow into adults and deals with such issues as the Vietnam War, spirituality, faith and fate, identity and social justice.

Irving fans who have not read this book should run out and get a copy now. It’s delightfully touching, endlessly entertaining and a wonderful testament to friendship. However, those who are not familiar with Irving’s writing might be overwhelmed by the level of detail that Irving includes in his novels. Irving’s writing never leaves you guessing. He gives it all to you and then some. I LOVE this about him, but some readers want him to get to the point, and quickly.

If you are tired of the formulaic plots of the books you’ve been reading and don’t mind investing some time in this classic, then by all means… pick up and copy and savor it.

Note from Ti: I also listened to the audio version of this while at the gym and it was wonderful. Great acting and extremely funny. If you don’t have time to read the print version, do try the audio.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.