Battlepanda: One more reason to hate John Irving


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

One more reason to hate John Irving

(Hat Tip: Daily Pepper)

Not only are his novels criminally overrated manic turgidities, he's such an egoistic whiner that he is shamelessly pulling strings to quash criticism.

John Irving's most recent literary wankfest "Until I find you", got another wonderfully scathing slam from another female reviewer. Upon reading it, Irving threw a hissy fit and twisted the WaPo's elbows into dropping the review straight to the archive siting some "conflict of interest" bullshit because the woman who wrote it was once married to one of his friends (Salmon Rushdie, actually.)

For that, I'm quoting Marianne Wiggins' hilarious review in its entirety. Even if only a few more pairs of eyeballs end up reading it on my blog who otherwise wouldn't have, I think I would have done my part in deflating one of the most unwelcome literary phenomenons in recent times.

“Until I Find You,” the new John Irving novel, goes for more than 800 pages and leaves one with an even greater appreciation for the Viagra label’s warning of penile erectile states that might last up to four or five hours. Make it stop!

Irving’s latest tale purports to be about Jack Burns, bastard son of a female tattoo artist and an itinerant organist, whose life we follow from the time he is introduced at age 4 until, 800 pages later, he is in his 30s; but really it’s about Jack’s penis, which, as a leading character in a novel of this length, has a paralyzingly narrow narrative scope, limited dialogue and no interesting stream-of-consciousness whatsoever.

The narration doesn’t exactly emanate from this part of Jack’s anatomy, but every plot point hinges on it, even when he is still a child. Early in the story, after he and his mother, Alice, have spent pointless months dragging through every Scandinavian country on the map, dogging his absent father, Jack is befriended by an older girl who fondles the prepubescent boy with the impatience of a person fingering her watch at a bus stop. Two hundred pages into the tale, Jack, at the raw age of 9, experiences what Irving calls his first “near-death ejaculation,” brought about by some older students at an all-girls school in Toronto. Soon thereafter, like the author, he goes to Exeter Academy and, subsequently, the University of New Hampshire. “Jack Burns would miss those girls, those so-called older women. Even the ones who had molested him. (Sometimes especially the ones who had molested him!). ... After the sea of girls, what pushovers boys were! After Jack’s older-women experiences, how easy it would be to deal with men!”

Three exclamation points! Count ’em, folks! That’s classy writing!

Another 200 pages later, Jack is finding out what lasting effects those girls have had on him when he’s asked by an English-mangling character whom Irving inserts for comic effect, “ ‘Are you a person who-wa, though not a homosexual, psychologically identifies weeth the opposite sex-sa? I mean-a weeth wee-men.’

“ ‘Am I a transvestite, do you mean?’

“ ‘Yes!’

“ ‘No.’

“ ‘But-a you are always dressing as a woo-man – or you seem to be theenking about eet, I mean-a dressing as a woo-man, even when-a you are dressed as a man.’ ”

When-a you have read more than two paragraphs of thees-a drivel, with or without the accompanying exclamation points, you want to hurl-a the book-a at a-wall – but don’t be too quick to e-Jack-ulate. There’s more. Four hundred pages more.

Jack follows his friend Emma to Hollywood, where he finds success playing transvestite roles. We are told that Jack is nominated for an Academy Award. In fact, we are always being told things that happen to Jack, while never being led to glimpse who Jack is or what Jack is feeling. The story reads as if Irving woke from a recurring nightmare and started dictating compulsively.

Ultimately, Jack tracks down his father, who suffers from a severe depressive obsessive-compulsive disorder. And 10 pages from the end, in a bizarrely affectless exchange, Jack’s father’s Swiss psychiatrist recommends to Jack a jagged little pill:

“It’s not unlike what we give your father, but it’s newer and a little different from Zoloft or Seropram. ... I think the brand name is Lexapro in the States. ... You might not like the loss of libido, possible impotence, or prolonged ejaculation.”

Nothing prepares us for this climactic device, and it’s a cop-out, a last-ditch effort to justify this mass of lazy, unrefined writing. Jack asks the psychiatrist if she thinks he’s depressed:

“ ‘What a question!’ she said, laughing of course you’re depressed!

“ ‘But how will I know when I’m finished? It just goes on and on,’ ” he says to her.

I hope I’m wrong to read this as the cry for help that it appears to be. It does go on and on, and someone, somewhere in the production line at Garp Enterprises, Ltd., should have advised John Irving not to rush to print until he’d crafted pain into art, as he’s done so masterfully before.