Once someone has read an 800-plus page book, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they should know exactly what to think of it. Well, after completing John Irving’s Until I Find You (848 pages), The Hangover is at a loss. Was it a brilliant Irving look at family, sexual mores, memory, and modern society, or a slightly off-target rehash of Irving’s usual subjects? The Hangover leans toward the former, but it’s easy to pitch a tent in either camp. Even at its best, Until I Find Youis no Garp.
Irving once again takes a unique character, Jack Burns, and sends him off on a life that would be hard to imagine, but is nevertheless compelling. There is plenty of Irving wit, humor, and insight scattered throughout the work, but the author also revisits some of his subjects like a ’78 Town and Country station wagon pulling into a family reunion at a run-down Hotel New Hampshire.
The main character is somewhat fatherless, attends prep schools and the University of New Hampshire, wrestles, has sexual quirks, and a wacked-out family. If you are a reader of Irving, that should sound familiar. The book does have plenty of merit, however. Irving keeps a reader engaged from start to finish, even if he does resort to such odd tactics as a relentless string of exclamation points.
The Hangover couldn’t figure out if this was another classic (that I had missed something was entirely possible) or a literary train wreck. A google search for reviews proved to be no help: As a group, the critics were no more certain than I. At complete-review.com, a list of compiled reviews assigns a grade reflecting the critic’s interpretation of the book. There are two A’s, an A-, three F’s, and a D+, and a smattering of grades in between. There are valid points made in nearly each of the pieces, whether praising or burying the book.
The Hangover was left with questions. Is Jack Burn’s passivity as the novel approaches its climax a result of the events of his life or an indication that Irving was pitching with five-miles-an-hour off his fastball? The Hangover would like to believe the former, but doubts linger. And that shouldn’t be the case, not with John Irving.