John Irving, who warned you about Roe vs. Wade, hopes to die at his desk.
For the last week, I have been reading John Irving’s latest novel at the same moment it arrives in bookstores around the country, and the reviews have been good.
The main critique is that the novel is written in a style that is so pretentious and self-important that it becomes hard to follow, but that’s true of any book written in a style different from the mainstream, and Irving’s style in this book is more pretentious than most. The book is a parody of the kind of New York-based fiction that used to circulate in Britain and the US after World War II, when the novel was really not an outlier: it was just about the most typical of a lot of novels about New York City, which were all written by New York writers: Truman Capote, Robert B. Parker, James Agee, James Baldwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a number of others.
I mean, it used to be standard (or at least very popular) for bookstores to put an author on the cover of any books they had (the ones with author’s names on them). This was especially true when they sold books by authors that were not in the mainstream, like George Bernard Shaw or Eugene O’Neill.
And Irving’s novel is no exception. So I was a little surprised to find a review that said Irving’s book is “too pretentious to be read.” (I looked for a review of his novel that said it was pretentious, but could not find one.)
The reviewer, who does not even say what the pretentious part is, seems to be implying that anyone who doesn’t find Irving’s book pretentious is not paying attention. He is, I suppose, implying that the book is for people who don’t like pretentious novels and are probably not “book people,” because he says that Irving’s writing is “un-book-y.”
It is true that Irving’s book is not “book-y,” that is, not like many of the books of the mainstream. I was reading a book of short stories by