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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

Until I Find You: A Novel


Until I Find You: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9781400063833
ISBN10: 1400063833
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Jack Burnss most vivid childhood memory is the moment of reaching for his mothers hand. Why is this feeling so significant for Jack? Is there a similarly powerful memory from your own childhood that you can recall? Why has it stayed with you?

2. “The trip to the North Sea with his mother had formed Jack Burns” (309). In what ways had the search for his father-which took Jack and Alice from Copenhagens tattoo parlors to Amsterdams red light district-shaped Jacks character? Also, discuss how Jacks perception of the odyssey changes over the course of the novel. If this trip “formed” him, how does the “revision” of the trip later in the novel “un-form” him?

3. Describe Jacks mother, Alice Stronach, and discuss her heartache and human failings. Did you feel sympathy for her? Anger? Both? In her own way, was Alice ever a good mother to Jack? Do you think she would have been a different mother, or woman, had William Burns chosen to stay with her?

4. As a reader, you also may have felt subject to Alices deceptions; are you willing to forgive her? Is Jack?

5. John Irving captures the peculiar, gritty, and fascinating world of tattooing with its eccentric heroes, history, and unique fraternity. What about this subculture surprised you most? Why do you think some people are addicted to being tattooed?

6. Describe the image and significance of the broken heart tattoo on the cover of the novel. Do you think tattoos are for the fierce at heart, or for the sentimental? If you were ever to get a tattoo, what would you choose?

7. In both positive and negative ways, women and girls have a profound impact on Jack Burns. How is the “sea of girls” at St. Hildas transformative for him? Describe Emma Oastler, and her peculiar relationship with Jack. Consider also Miss Wurtz, and Mrs. McQuat-the “Gray Ghost” who was “always the voice of Jacks conscience” (330).

8. As John Irving writes, “In this way, 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.” How is Jack slowly robbed of his childhood? Discuss Alice, Mrs. Oastler, and Mrs. Machado as “thieves” of Jacks childhood. Do you think it is possible to have an innocent childhood today? How long does childhood last?

9. Why does Jack Burns love performing? After working with Miss Wurtz, why does he come to the conclusion that “Life was not a stage; life was improv” (163)?

10. Who is Jacks “audience of one,” and how does the vision of this sole spectator affect his acting and, more generally, his life? In your own life, who would you choose to envision as your “audience of one”?

11. Discuss the theme of sexuality in the novel, both in its positive and negative forms. How does Jacks abuse haunt his later relationships with Michele and Claudia? Also, why does Jack feel most comfortable portraying women in film? Is Jacks transvestism a way for him to control, or perhaps hide, his sexuality?

12. Consider Jacks reaction to Emmas death. Why cant he cry? Describe Emmas hold on Jack, both in life-at St. Hildas, the Oastler household and the house on Entrada Drive- and in death, with her odd “gift” of the Slush-Pile Reader screenplay. Did Emma ultimately help Jack or hurt him? Do you think her motivations were selfless, or selfish? Finally, why does her death leave Jack feeling as though he “[doesnt] know who he [is]” (431)?

13. As Irving writes, “So much of what you think you remember is a lie” (532). After Alices death, when Jack embarks on his second trip to the North Sea ports, we learn along with him that much of what he remembers about his past is untrue. How did you feel, as a reader, to learn that Jack had been lied to, and that his memories (and our memory, as readers) were false? Discuss your reaction to the “revision” of Jacks life, to the elusive nature of memory, and consider how perspective can change the entire truth of a story.

14. Describe Jacks reunion with his father. Were you surprised by Williams condition? Even though William was absent for many years, how did he manage to be very much involved in his sons life?

15. When does Jack finally stop “acting”? Describe the moment with Heather when he becomes “the real Jack Burns at last” (747). What brings him into himself for the first time? Have you ever had a moment like this, when your life suddenly clicked? When your sense of self became noticeably whole or true, even for an instance?

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

mireille27, April 12, 2007 (view all comments by mireille27)
I have accidentally stumbled unto the best author and writer of any time. I 'found' A widow for one year at a restaurant in Zihuatenajo, Mexico that traded or gave away books. After careful deliberation I chose A widow for one year. After that I was hooked. I read The world according to Garp, then Until I find you. Now I am reading The Fourth Hand. John Irvings' dedication to detail, authentic character representation and comic relief is inspiring. 'Until I find you' is long, however in my opinion that is what makes it great. It often takes a lifetime to recover from our childhood. Had John Irving taken a shorter path, the authenticity of the story would be lost. The loss of innocence of any child is a life-long battle that leaves the child scarred and scared. Jack Burns' life is normal considering his childhood. I love that Mr Irving does not protect us emotionally from the characters. I absolutely hated Alice. I think Mr. Irving wanted us to hate her, not to forgive her, even when Jacks father William urges us to forgive. I did not want to forgive her. I truly felt for Jack. His mother acted selfishly and myopically. Only thinking of herself, even when she was sick, why not tell her son? Another aspect of this complex novel that I apprectiate is for the longest time we believe Alice. We are as blind as little Jack of the true nature of William. The often innacurate portrayal of absentee fathers or neglectful and abusive boyfriends is often the only side we hear in stories and in Life. The female perspective. We assume that Alice is correct. That she is the jilted young mom, left to fend for herself while her selfish boyfriend places gettting 'inked' in higher regard than her and their child.I especially appreciate that in the end, we get what we want; the reunion. Father and son, together at last. But it is not happy ending. It is a complicated ending that will go on long after the book is over. That is what I love. An ending that is satisfying but not necessarily easy.
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sandylcarlson, August 6, 2006 (view all comments by sandylcarlson)
Irving's novel beautifully and accurately describes the long-term effects of sex, sex-abuse, and lies on a child's sense of self. Jack Burns's attempt to repair the damage to his world and forgive the perpetrators and sensitively rendered in this novel. Thank you, John Irving.
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Product Details

Irving, John
Random House (NY)
Fathers and sons
Domestic fiction
Psychological fiction
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;novel;tattoos;american;family;tattoo;coming of age;canada;tattoo artists;amsterdam;usa;contemporary;contemporary fiction;actors;literary;literature;american fiction;father;childhood;music;21st century;growing up;mothers and sons;sexual abuse;sex;e
fiction;novel;tattoos;american;family;tattoo;coming of age;canada;tattoo artists;amsterdam;usa;contemporary;contemporary fiction;actors;literary;literature;american fiction;father;childhood;music;21st century;growing up;mothers and sons;sexual abuse;sex;e
Publication Date:
July 12, 2005
Grade Level:
9.48x6.58x1.67 in. 2.64 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Until I Find You: A Novel Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 848 pages Random House - English 9781400063833 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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.)
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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....[B]y a third of the way through this almost impenetrable tale, no one will care."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[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....[T]he results are worth reading even if they end up filling only half a book. (Grade: B-)"
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "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?"
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "As Jack Burns matures, so does the book....This is a novel worth reading all the way through."
"Review" by , "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."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "[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."
"Review" by , "Until I Find You, an often stunningly visual novel, is burdened by bloat. One can easily imagine a pared-down, vivid film version."
"Review" by , "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."
"Synopsis" by , 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.
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