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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Until I Find You by John Irving

Until I Find You: A Novel by John Irving. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN: 1-4000-6383-3

Fans of John Irving's work know more or less what to expect: A rich, deeply layered story, surfeited with symbolism. And some of the quirks of human nature, people who are more than perhaps just a bit out of the ordinary. The author who comes closest to the kind of storytelling Irving is justifiably famous for, would be for me, at least, the Canadian Robertson Davies. (See my “Other Fiction” index for several Davies blog entries.)

This newest Irving oeuvre was particularly compelling personally since it begins with a church organist (like myself). Jack, our protagonist, age 4, and his mother are chasing Jack's father, William (coincidentally my own Christian name) all over Europe, from cathedral to cathedral, and from organ to organ, but each time they arrive in a town, William has seemingly just escaped over the horizon, having first dallied sexually with a choir girl, or another musician of some sort. Or so it seems to Jack, based on what his mother tells him.

Inevitably, all is not as it seems, however, as we learn much later along in the story. In the meantime, Jack's mother is a notable tattoo artist, and takes up her calling in each city they visit. Jack's father, it seems, is a tattoo aficionado, which is presumably how they met, but his tattoos are almost (but not quite) exclusively of music scores: Hymns, or compositions by Bach, Handel, Pachelbel, Balbastre, Scheidt, Messiaen, Widor, Dupre, and other composers for the organ. Needless to say after that list, by the end of his life, William is tattooed in essentially a full-body manner, with only his face and hands escaping. Clothed he looks completely normal. Unclothed . . . that's another story.

Jack grows up to be a successful Hollywood actor of the second string, and although not a transvestite himself, is often called upon to play one on the screen, because of his extreme good looks. Jack has played women on stage since he was in grade school, starting in 4th grade theatricals, which seems odd, given that he was attending what had formerly been an all-girls Catholic school in Toronto.

If I have any complaint about the book, it would only be its obsession with slightly off-beat sex. Especially when Jack is subjected to what can only be described as sexual abuse from the older girls, and later older women, seemingly leading to an inability to maintain “normal” relationships with women. I was a little uncomfortable reading some of those sections in the early part of the book, and didn't find them compellingly necessary from an artistic point of view. Maybe I AM becoming a prude in my old age.

Much later in life, Jack's psychiatrist insists that he tell her his entire life story in chronological order. Meaning he can't really come to her with his ongoing day-to-day problems. “Keep it in chronological order. Is that understood?” says Dr. Garcia. And that's actually a description of the book itself. We read Jack's experiences in chronological order. What a concept!

The final question throughout the book seems to be this: Will Jack ever find his father? Does Jack WANT to find his father? Why hasn't Jack's father found HIM? What has kept them apart all these years? You'll have to read all the way to page 724 of this 824-page tome to find out. But as usual with Irving's novels, you'll be well entertained along the way. Essential for Irving fans. Recommended for others.


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