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Until I Find You: A Novelby John Irving
Synopses & Reviews
"According to his mother, Jack Burns was an actor before he was an actor, but Jack's most vivid memories of childhood were those moments when he felt compelled to hold his mother's hand. He wasn't acting then."
So begins John Irving's eleventh novel, Until I Find You — the story of the actor Jack Burns. His mother, Alice, is a Toronto tattoo artist. When Jack is four, he travels with Alice to several North Sea ports; they are trying to find Jack's missing father, William, a church organist who is addicted to being tattooed. But Alice is a mystery, and William can't be found. Even Jack's memories are subject to doubt.
Jack Burns goes to schools in Canada and New England, but what shapes him are his relationships with older women. John Irving renders Jack's life as an actor in Hollywood with the same richness of detail and range of emotions he uses to describe the tattoo parlors in those North Sea ports and the reverberating music Jack heard as a child in European churches.
The author's tone — indeed, the narrative voice of this novel — is melancholic. ("In increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us — not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.") Until I Find You is suffused with overwhelming sadness and deception; it is also a robust and comic novel, certain to be compared to John Irving's most ambitious and moving work.
"Actor Jack Burns seeks a sense of identity and father figures while accommodating a host of overbearing and elaborately dysfunctional women in Irving's latest sprawling novel (after The Fourth Hand). At the novel's onset (in 1969), four-year-old Jack is dragged by his mother, Alice, a Toronto-based tattoo artist, on a year-long search throughout northern Europe for William Burns, Jack's runaway father, a church organist and 'ink addict.' Back in Toronto, Alice enrolls Jack at the all-girls school St. Hilda's, where she mistakenly thinks he'll be 'safe among the girls'; he later transfers to Redding, an all-boy's prep school in Maine. Jack survives a childhood remarkable for its relentless onslaught of sexual molestation at the hands of older girls and women to become a world-famous actor and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. Eventually, he retraces his childhood steps across Europe, in search of the truth about his father — a quest that also emerges as a journey toward normalcy. Though the incessant, graphic sexual abuse becomes gratuitous, Irving handles the novel's less seedy elements superbly: the earthy camaraderie of the tattoo parlors, the Hollywood glitz, Jack's developing emotional authenticity, his discovery of a half-sister and a moving reunion with his father. Agent, Janet Turnbull Irving. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With Jack Burns, Irving has created his most complex protagonist....And in the long, winding, complex and moody narrative that is Until I Find You, Irving has fashioned a real heart-stopper of a story — and one of his finest novels to date." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Some novels are simply too long, and this is one of them. The framework of the plot cannot support so much detail and so many prolonged scenes....
"Irving's 11th novel may disappoint longtime fans — this is a quieter, more contemplative journey than his previous works, requiring some patience and reflection....[A] rewarding and meaningful experience." Library Journal
"[T]he book's second half is so much more lively, you can't help but wish Irving had packed even bigger chunks of Hollywood into this jumbo volume....
"[A] bloated and lugubrious new novel....Jack's 'melancholic logorrhea' might yield some useful therapeutic results, but in terms of storytelling, it makes for a tedious, self-indulgent and cruelly eye-glazing read." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"At more than 800 pages, Until I Find You takes the crown for the best longest novel of recent years....Irving lays on a lot of charming comedy." San Francisco Chronicle
"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." Marianne Wiggins, The Washington Post
"All in all, this is a wonderfully thought-provoking book. Despite its length and heft (I was afraid of dropping it on my foot), its artistry is so compelling that I'm considering reading it again. How weird is that?" Chicago Sun-Times
"On the surface, the book seems to be a galloping sexual bildungsroman. And yet, beneath the farce, a slow undercurrent of sorrow makes itself felt....[There] might be [an] intriguing 300-page novel secreted inside this sprawling, uneven one." Chicago Tribune
"As Jack Burns matures, so does the book....This is a novel worth reading all the way through." Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
"The last 300 or so pages of Until I Find You are marvelous, and the twists and turns as Jack pursues his final search are believable and touching. The main problem is with the long middle of the novel in which Jack seems not only to have forgotten his father, but to have lost himself." Charlotte Observer
"[A] diluted story, a 350-page novel told in more than twice that space....The magical alchemy of plot, character and psychology that Irving brought to the best of his earlier tales is nowhere to be found." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[E]ven when, a good two-thirds of the way through, he finally did something that impressed me, I still found myself not liking this book very much, which disturbed me because of how much I admire Irving." San Jose Mercury News
"Until I Find You, an often stunningly visual novel, is burdened by bloat. One can easily imagine a pared-down, vivid film version." Los Angeles Times
"No John Irving novel is any easy read; he'd rather take the long way home than the easy path. Yet it's always an unpredictable journey, and once you emerge from the emotional briar patch, you find yourself sad that it's over, and ready to take the trip again." Rocky Mountain News
Suffused with overwhelming sadness and deception, this 11th novel by the bestselling author — a chronicle of the life of an actor — is also a robust and comic novel, certain to be compared to Irving's most ambitious and moving work.
Until I Find You is the story of the actor Jack Burns - his life, loves, celebrity and astonishing search for the truth about his parents.
When he is four years old, Jack travels with his mother Alice, a tattoo artist, to several North Sea ports in search of his father, William Burns. From Copenhagen to Amsterdam, William, a brilliant church organist and profligate womanizer, is always a step ahead - has always just departed in a wave of scandal, with a new tattoo somewhere on his body from a local master or “scratcher.”
Alice and Jack abandon their quest, and Jack is educated at schools in Canada and New England - including, tellingly, a girls school in Toronto. His real education consists of his relationships with older women - from Emma Oastler, who initiates him into erotic life, to the girls of St. Hildas, with whom he first appears on stage, to the abusive Mrs. Machado, whom he first meets when sent to learn wrestling at a local gym.
Too much happens in this expansive, eventful novel to possibly summarize it all. Emma and Jack move to Los Angeles, where Emma becomes a successful novelist and Jack a promising actor. A host of eccentric minor characters memorably come and go, including Jacks hilariously confused teacher the Wurtz; Michelle Maher, the girlfriend he will never forget; and a precocious child Jack finds in the back of an Audi in a restaurant parking lot. We learn about tattoo addiction and movie cross-dressing, “sleeping in the needles” and the cure for cauliflower ears. And John Irving renders his protagonists unusual rise through Hollywood with the same vivid detail and range of emotions he gives to the organ music Jack hears as a child in European churches. This is an absorbing and moving book about obsession and loss, truth and storytelling, the signs we carry on us and inside us, the traces we cant get rid of.
Jack has always lived in the shadow of his absent father. But as he grows older - and when his mother dies - he starts to doubt the portrait of his fathers character she painted for him when he was a child. This is the cue for a second journey around Europe in search of his father, from Edinburgh to Switzerland, towards a conclusion of great emotional force.
A melancholy tale of deception, Until I Find You is also a swaggering comic novel, a giant tapestry of lifes hopes. It is a masterpiece to compare with John Irvings great novels, and restates the authors claim to be considered the most glorious, comic, moving novelist at work today.
About the Author
John Irving has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Oscar. Until I Find You is his eleventh novel. He lives in Vermont and Toronto.
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