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Until I Find You Paperback – May 30, 2006
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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At over 800 pages, John Irving's Until I Find You is a daunting proposition at best. Anyone who finishes it will have acquired forearm muscles, sore shoulders, and not much else. The story is self-indulgent, repetitive and, ultimately, boring, that cardinal sin that readers can't forgive. Longtime Irving readers have stayed with him through a few hits and a miss or two, but this is an all-time low. We are accustomed to Irving's work as quirky, bizarre, and off-the-wall and have forgiven all by calling such high-jinks and characters "imaginative" or "absolutely original." The only thing original about this tome is the descent into soft porn.
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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Actor Jack Burns seeks a sense of identity and father figures while accommodating a host of overbearing and elaborately dysfunctional women in Irving's latest sprawling novel (after The Fourth Hand). At the novel's onset (in 1969), four-year-old Jack is dragged by his mother, Alice, a Toronto-based tattoo artist, on a year-long search throughout northern Europe for William Burns, Jack's runaway father, a church organist and "ink addict." Back in Toronto, Alice enrolls Jack at the all-girls school St. Hilda's, where she mistakenly thinks he'll be "safe among the girls"; he later transfers to Redding, an all-boy's prep school in Maine. Jack survives a childhood remarkable for its relentless onslaught of sexual molestation at the hands of older girls and women to become a world-famous actor and Academy Award–winning screenwriter. Eventually, he retraces his childhood steps across Europe, in search of the truth about his father—a quest that also emerges as a journey toward normalcy. Though the incessant, graphic sexual abuse becomes gratuitous, Irving handles the novel's less seedy elements superbly: the earthy camaraderie of the tattoo parlors, the Hollywood glitz, Jack's developing emotional authenticity, his discovery of a half-sister and a moving reunion with his father.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
The book is divided into five sections. I enjoyed Section I the most. Little Jack Burns (age 4) accompanies his jilted mother, Alice, on a tour of Europe looking for Jack's father, an organist, who impregnated Canadian school girl/church choir singer, Alice, and then took off on her. The fun part for me was that I just traveled to Europe one year ago for the first time. Alice and Jack visit many of the countries I visited. Alice makes money doing tattoos. They never to Jack's knowledge catch up to his father. But everywhere they go, Jack hears how his father was continually having sex with juvenile girls and was constantly chased out of town to find a new organist position in another country.
In Section II, Jack has returned from Europe and ends of enrolled in an almost entirely girls' private school. There he is repeatedly sexually abused by Emma, an older girl, who ends up being his best friend in his entire life. He is also sexually abused by other girls and adult women. But he doesn't know it's sexual abuse. He doesn't know that this activity is unusual because the females that are doing it obviously don't tell anyone about it, and the ones who aren't doing it don't know it's happening. The book is laugh out loud funny while at the same time being very sick.
Jack ends up acting in school plays, both at the girls' school, and at the private boys' school he is sent to for his later education. He starts out often playing female roles. He is facially beautiful small male, and he dresses well in female clothing. This type of acting follows him into adulthood where he becomes a recognizable movie star, sometimes playing females or transvestites, sometimes playing a male part. However, he is a straight very sexually active man. Emma has by then become a successful screen writer. They live together in a house in California. They sleep together, and sexually touch/hold each other, but never have intercourse. Section III of the book was quite slow moving. Even though Emma and Jack both become famous, neither of them were ever particularly happy, and it didn't make me happy for them.
Things heat up significantly in Section IV. We find out that Alice has been lying about significant parts about William, Jack's father. The promiscuous life style that she had attributed to Jack had actually been lived by her. Jack grows to hate his mother and the life she provided for him. As the reader, I hated her and wanted her locked up for the poor job she did as his parent. Alice dies in her 50's?) of breast cancer, and Jack can't forgive her.
Jack starts seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Garcia, in Section V. And his life does take a turn for the better. But even after 800+ pages, the book ends too suddenly for me. Although Jack was happy, the ending didn't make me happy.
There is a degree of suspense and anticipation fostered by a plot that moves at a very plodding, if moderately entertaining pace, but this is no "Twisted River" (and I say that as a fan of the writer and also as a fan of tattoos!).
Unfortunately, the payoff at the end of this story does not seem commensurate with all of the prior teasing, and the central character's epiphany is not especially affecting, maybe because the author has made him so emotionally unavailable throughout the book.
IMHO Irving needs a better editor!
By the time Jack's wrestling partner, an older woman, began molesting him, I was too far into the story to stop reading cold turkey. From then on, I just skipped over the disturbing parts because I HAD TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED. Where was Jack's father? What really happened between Alice and William? Was William the cad he was portrayed to be?
When the mammoth novel begins, Jack is a 4-year-old child living with his mother Alice, a tattoo artist. As it turns out, she is also a prostitute, at least some of the time. Just when I was thinking that Jack's memory was incredibly sharp, I learned that he was remembering events incorrectly. Was that a protective mechanism? Or was it just proof of the human fallibility of memory? Psychologists believe that personal memories are part fact and part fiction, and that certainly seems to be the case with young Jack.
Years pass, and Jack grows up and goes away to school. He discovers his proclivity for acting and later becomes a top rated movie star. However, he is quite unhappy and harbors resentment towards his mother, especially after he learns the twisted truth about what happened between William and her. Wait! Is William the good guy and Alice the villain? You'll need to read that for yourself.
Irving's story telling ability intrigued me so that I had to stick it out until the end. Would Jack find his father? Would they forge a relationship? Yes! But that's all I'm saying. Well, I'll add one more thing. Jack's life takes an upswing in more ways than one when he learns that he has a father, a father who has loved him at a distance for his entire life.
This is a long, long novel with disturbing scenes and language that could have been omitted without harm to the novel. People's family relations are complex and affect us in a myriad of ways. If you don't believe me, read this novel...just be prepared for some disturbing scenes.
Most recent customer reviews
It was not the typical John Irving book but I did enjoy it and glad I read it at this point in my life.Read more