Book Review: UNTIL I FIND YOU, by John Irving

Could it be true? A John Irving novel that actually didn't make me cry like a little baby? I guess it is: I made my way through all 820 pages without shedding a single tear, and I'm not sure I could be more surprised. Normally, his novels come with at least one scene that just gets me--he sets it up from page 1, and I see it coming, approaching steadily, growing larger and larger on the horizon, until suddenly it's upon me and I cannot fend it off. Emotionally, John Irving's books tend to just wipe me out.

So how did he make it through 820 pages (that, my friends, is a large book to be lugging around an airport) without breaking my heart even once? Well, this is just a different sort of book, I suspect. It's very vulnerable, and fairly heart-warming, and while I hate to point fingers this way, I'd hazard a guess that the subject (the search for an absent father) is a bit close to our dear author's heart. The way he writes UNTIL I FIND YOU is almost tender.

In my review of The World According to Garp, though, I made mention of Irving's repeated themes. What the heck, I'll quote myself:
Having now, officially, read six Irving novels, I have to admit that I'm growing weary of the repeated themes. In my review of The Hotel New Hampshire, I cited this as an asset, but I think I'm beginning to feel a bit like Irving is dipping from the same pots again and again. The books are still great, but I just feel a little let down when I see pieces of my favorite plots tossed around from book to book, and especially now that themes from my favorite, A Widow for One Year, have made some rather breathtaking appearances in The World According to Garp.
And, though I had high hopes at the start of UNTIL I FIND YOU that Irving would not head down those familiar roads, I was a bit disappointed to find the characters in Amsterdam's Red Light district, yet again--or to find yet another character grow up to become a writer (or musician, or celebrity of some sort).

That criticism aside, I will admit to enjoying UNTIL I FIND YOU, even if I reluctantly won't list it alongside my favorite Irving novels (A Widow for One Year, The Cider House Rules). I loved reading all the stuff about tattoos, and I loved a certain character that I'll leave unnamed who is at last revealed toward the end of the book.

It is a good book, read by a harsh audience. I caught on too late in the story that this wasn't the sort of book that set out to make me cry.


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