In Irving’s fourteenth novel (following critical successes such as The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules and In One Person), the central character, novelist Juan Diego Guerrero, is on a journey to the Philippines to pay his respects at the grave of a friend’s father. On the way, he tampers with his beta-blockers and spends the trip straddling the past and the present, reality and fiction, often unable to discern on which side he stands.
Throughout his trip, memories of growing up in a Mexican dump with his younger sister, Lupe, take over. He relives the defining moments in his life, including time at an orphanage and a circus, the accident that left him crippled and his move to the United States with an adoptive family, without Lupe. These memories mix with his current situation as he travels and meets a sexually charged mother and daughter who follow him on his journey, exposing him to experiences he’s only imagined in his writing.
Though this novel is impressive in its scope and in its attention to detail, those very qualities also make it sometimes overwhelming and difficult to read. It’s clear that Irving is a talented writer, but the book itself is a bit of an Everest. At times, you may want to give up for something a little lighter (Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me?, perhaps?), but keep going. It will be worth it. Just don’t try to finish it in a weekend.
Avenue of Mysteries (Knopf Canada), $35, available Nov. 3, 2015 at indigo.ca.
3 must-read books for fall