A Review of “Until I Find You,” by John Irving
I’ve been stalling to write this review. The author is world renowned and this book was a New York Times bestseller. The rave reviews (printed in a special preface entitled “Praise for…”) filled four pages. I must be a Martian. I don’t know how all of those reviewers could have read the entire book, which is 820 pages; after all, this novel takes several days to read and they don’t get paid by the hour. I actually read the entire book at my usual slow pace and I understand it as well as anyone (without using literary jargon meant to confuse and obfuscate). I’m not going to pretend to know what the author was thinking when he wrote it; I’m only going to throw my two-cents-worth into the pot.
The book is grammatically well written and the copy editor did a good job. I only found a few typos and punctuation errors. The style (at first) leans heavily on interjections introduced through parenthetical sentences and even paragraphs, but then the style changes to less-evocative prose. That isn’t my main complaint, however; this book is nothing more than a thin treatment of childhood sexual abuse drowned by irrelevant details. The author was bored with the story before he finished it, and simply threw an ending together. (I don’t blame him.) (BTW these parenthetical sentences are examples of the style used in the first part of the book.)
If you want to learn about tattooing and the (sometimes real) people in the industry; acoustic organs; nineteenth century organ music; the geography of Scandinavian cities; the (imaginary?) life of a small boy in an all-girls school; wrestling; and a bizarre twist of several (imaginary) books and screenplays written by characters in the novel – this book is for you.
The plot got lost in the details and even the author apparently lost track because, when the central character finally found his estranged father (they’d never met), there was absolutely no explanation of what caused a deeply religious man, tattooed from neck to foot, to abandon his son, and (when he got older) to play the acoustic organ in a church before removing his clothes and exposing himself in public. To make the ending even less plausible, the central character (Jack Burns) is suddenly cured of years of sexual child abuse by people he trusted (not his family) and accepts his estranged biological father’s behavior as normal.
This book strains incredulity beyond the breaking point. It read like a never-ending Saturday Night Live skit and not one of the humorous ones. I think I laughed twice while reading it, but I can’t remember when because most of the book was filled with mind-numbing details about topics I couldn’t care less about, especially when presented in such excruciating detail. This book was published before social influencers had taken over, but I don’t think it matters. I’ve read several recent books that were recommended by the news media and they were just as bad as Until I Find You. Nothing has changed, only the medium.
Even if I didn’t have a policy of not reading more than one book by an author, I will never read ANYTHING by John Irving again; I can only speculate that screenplays based on his books (e.g., The World According to Garp and The Cypress House Rules) bore little resemblance to the books.
In summary, this book was as hard to read as The Divine Comedy, except it wasn’t written 700 year ago. I prayed for the ending, which was as much of a let-down as the entire book.