Tuesday, July 05, 2011
I was pretty stunned to find this brick of a book on my bed recently. I didn't know who John Irving was and I didn't read anything from the back cover. 860 pages, huh? At least it was large print, I guessed. I guessed this must have been based on a review from Entertainment Weekly because I didn't remember it and that's where most of my fiction recommendations come from.
I have an appreciation for authors. My story about the international criminal named Dell hasn't gone anywhere because I haven't had time to think about the entire story. But when you get a book printed, a lot of people have had to approve it and someone's taken quite a gamble to print it. I would later come to find that this was John Irving's 12th. book and that he had written The Cider House Rules, which was made into a movie that I never had any interest in seeing.
So, anyhow, I abandoned the last two fiction books (Stone's Fall and Imperfect Birds) so I hoped I could make it through this one. I did, but it was a little bit of a struggle. And in the end, I don't recommend this book.
When I read a book, I want to come away changed. For me, a good book will leave me feeling better about myself, challenged to change some aspect of myself, entertained or temporarily taken away from my life to a pleasant diversion. The book turned out to be about an author, so I did learn a little bit about how John Irving must approach the writing process, but it wasn't enough. Again, 860 pages.
The book had an interesting composition which felt like it was inspired by LOST or something. It moved forward over 50 years, but through foreshadowing and flashback, it played with the timeline, in order to make an overall boring meander into a slightly more interesting story. The story begins with the death of a young man doing something he shouldn't and a slightly older man who was unable to save him. We're introduced to two more characters, a man and his son. And then we learn of the man's wife who died in about the same place (the titular river) before the book began. And then something bad happens (well, something else) and the man and his son go on the run, pursued for 50 years. Other bad things happen, some nice scenery is described, in (details far less graphic details than many books I've read) a lot of sexual activity happens -- in fact three characters die while engaged in sexual acts. The characters (and apparently the author) has no deep knowledge of any religion, with only passing ignorant references. The author, however, does have a political viewpoint.
Near the end, there's a poignant moment. At the same time that moment is occurring, it turns out that airplanes are slamming into the World Trade Center. The rest of the book is a tirade against President George Bush and really, it feels tacked on. The last bit is way too political and seemingly unnecessary and just a way for the author to spew his venom. Not because I disagree, mind you, but because it just feels out of place and just very mean-spirited, even for the character whose mouth they are written from. At the end, some details are wrapped up nice and tidy.
The details are lush, you learn a lot about cooking and logging and writing one character in particular seems to be well-written, even if he doesn't seem to age from age 30 to age 80. (He reads as about 55 the entire time.) The female, characters, however, are all flimsy. Even when different people describe the same female character, they all use the same descriptions. This was either sloppy, or one thing the author doesn't do well is understand the subtle nuances about how different people (especially the difference between an older Hispanic woman, a young Canadian handyman and the American ex-pat author) might describe characteristics of the same woman. (That they might use pick up on different details or describe different aspects - even if she was dressed identically at all time - which itself is odd.)
And like I said, I hate criticizing writing. I've never had a book published, it's not my field. But I can tell you what I think, which I've done. I also did not look at the Amazon rating for the book before I got it. With only three stars, I'm pretty certain I would have passed.
And I would recommend you pass.