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Jack Burns, the hero of the tale, is four years old when it all begins. He is the illegitimate son of Daughter Alice, a tattoo artist and, guess what, daughter of a tattoo artist. She takes Jack on a pilgrimage to find his womanizing father, William, a church organist and "ink addict." By seeking out church organs and tattoo parlors, she expects to find him. She doesn't, and by now we have spent more than a hundred pages in Northern European cities doing an imitation of Groundhog Day. Same story, different day: a little prostitution for Alice, a few questions asked; alas, no daddy.
Alice and Jack return to Toronto so that Jack may enter a previously all-girls school, which will admit little boys for the first time. There begins another 200 pages of the girls and the teachers abusing Jack, over and over again. By now, he is five and is, for some unfathomable reason, eminently interesting to girls and women. His "friend" Emma keeps careful track of "the little guy," as she calls Jack's penis, looking for signs of life. The worst part of all this is that none of it is funny or sad or even clever. There are wrestling vignettes, of course, and prep school tedium, but no bears. Maybe bears would have saved it. There were funny parts in The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules as well as poignant, horrific parts in both of those and other Irving novels. This story is flat. The voice never changes; it just drones on.
Jack becomes an actor. First, he is a boy in drag because he is so pretty, then he takes transvestite parts. He and Emma, now a published novelist, live together in LA, which provides endless opportunity for name-dropping. His career eventually takes off and he gets recognition and awards, but still no daddy. Irving, it turns out, never knew his father, either. Perhaps this exercise will exorcise that demon once and for all and Irving's next book will be about something more compelling than a little boy's penis and his trashy mother's antics. If you do make it through to the book's snapper of an ending, you deserve to find out what it is on your own. Call it a reward. --Valerie Ryan
To me Irving's genius as a writer has always been in his juxtaposition of the mundane with the bizarre in a believable way so that the reader cares about the characters, their... Read morePublished 21 days ago by Edward
Perhaps I am getting just a little tired of the author's quirks. This novel is an odyssey laden with all of Irving's trademark character ingredients: transvestitism; a... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Richard Singer
Boring, predictable. I'm a big Irving fan. I've read just about everything he's written. This was his worst.Published 2 months ago by Richard Brush
Still one of my favorite authors!!
I always reach a point in his novels where I think to myself..."New England, wrestling, AGAIN???!!! Read more
This story took me on a journey of hills and valleys. Made me laugh out loud and made me cry. Loved the way it ended. Perfect.Published 4 months ago by Mercy Buker
This is John Irving at his best. I was so disappointed when the book was over and I had no more to read about Jack Burns and his father. The story has such a twist. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Michelle Clark
This poor little boy is passed from one abuser to another - types of people I don't know and don't care to know, never mind spend what sometimes seemed like an eternity with them. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Nancy