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Avenue of Mysteries

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John Irving returns to the themes that established him as one of our most admired and beloved authors in this absorbing novel of fate and memory. As we grow older—most of all, in what we remember and what we dream—we live in the past. Sometimes, we live more vividly in the past than in the present. As an older man, Juan Diego will take a trip to the Philippines, but what tra John Irving returns to the themes that established him as one of our most admired and beloved authors in this absorbing novel of fate and memory. As we grow older—most of all, in what we remember and what we dream—we live in the past. Sometimes, we live more vividly in the past than in the present. As an older man, Juan Diego will take a trip to the Philippines, but what travels with him are his dreams and memories; he is most alive in his childhood and early adolescence in Mexico. “An aura of fate had marked him,” John Irving writes, of Juan Diego. “The chain of events, the links in our lives—what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do—all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.” Avenue of Mysteries is the story of what happens to Juan Diego in the Philippines, where what happened to him in the past—in Mexico—collides with his future.


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John Irving returns to the themes that established him as one of our most admired and beloved authors in this absorbing novel of fate and memory. As we grow older—most of all, in what we remember and what we dream—we live in the past. Sometimes, we live more vividly in the past than in the present. As an older man, Juan Diego will take a trip to the Philippines, but what tra John Irving returns to the themes that established him as one of our most admired and beloved authors in this absorbing novel of fate and memory. As we grow older—most of all, in what we remember and what we dream—we live in the past. Sometimes, we live more vividly in the past than in the present. As an older man, Juan Diego will take a trip to the Philippines, but what travels with him are his dreams and memories; he is most alive in his childhood and early adolescence in Mexico. “An aura of fate had marked him,” John Irving writes, of Juan Diego. “The chain of events, the links in our lives—what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do—all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.” Avenue of Mysteries is the story of what happens to Juan Diego in the Philippines, where what happened to him in the past—in Mexico—collides with his future.

30 review for Avenue of Mysteries

  1. 4 out of 5

    Angela M

    I've been trying to read this book for ten days . That's very unlike me as usually I read a couple of books a week. At first I thought it was because I've been busy with visiting friends , appointments and just had a lot going on . The truth of the matter is that I just am not crazy about this book and every time I picked it up I just couldn't read very much of it . That's hard for me to say as I have read and really liked and even loved most of John Irving's novels. I really wanted to like it a I've been trying to read this book for ten days . That's very unlike me as usually I read a couple of books a week. At first I thought it was because I've been busy with visiting friends , appointments and just had a lot going on . The truth of the matter is that I just am not crazy about this book and every time I picked it up I just couldn't read very much of it . That's hard for me to say as I have read and really liked and even loved most of John Irving's novels. I really wanted to like it and at times I thought I did but it was just too slow and too weird. Juan Diego , an injured boy and his clairvoyant sister Lupe stole my heart at first. These children who are living in a dump in Mexico and managing to survive. We learn of their childhood though dreams or memories or flashbacks of an adult Juan Diego, who is now a writer . It just became to much work to decipher what were his dreams and what were his memories and what was real? The miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe looming in the past , two not quite orphan children living in a dump in Oaxaca Mexico , a Hawaian shirt clad teacher from Iowa - this was the past and the present was just not as interesting. Sorry , John Irving ! I just could not finish this beyond 42% or about 188 pages. Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss .

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elyse

    I kept thinking..."what's wrong with me"? The story felt a little flat. I kept hoping tires would be filled soon so I'd joy the ride...and I did....'somewhat'. Between a virgin shop, mannequins that looked pregnant, .... with dialogue debating if it's a sex doll or religious doll ....and debate to snuggle a plastic virgin doll... (but feet would need to be amputated from the pedestal in order to do so), not only does the mannequin look like a misplaced literary character in a novel--so does this n I kept thinking..."what's wrong with me"? The story felt a little flat. I kept hoping tires would be filled soon so I'd joy the ride...and I did....'somewhat'. Between a virgin shop, mannequins that looked pregnant, .... with dialogue debating if it's a sex doll or religious doll ....and debate to snuggle a plastic virgin doll... (but feet would need to be amputated from the pedestal in order to do so), not only does the mannequin look like a misplaced literary character in a novel--so does this novel at times. The character Juan Diego has 'some' of the same characteristics as the character Jack, in Irving's book "Until I Find You"... which is another book where he is dominated by women, and searching for meaningful love and relationships. It was more engaging than this one, (even though I cringed in both of these novels at times), I felt both characters were similar, but Juan Diego, didn't fully have my heart. In "A Prayer for Owen Meany", Owen, the little guy, was 'so memorable'. He seem to win over 'everyone's' hearts, So... that's the difference for me. On the surface .. many of the same elements that I love about John Irving are in this novel, but I wasn't all that excited about 'the story' itself. Juan Diego has many dreams- he cherishes his childhood memories, and/or he dreams of the women he has had sex with as an adult. As a middle age man, he looks back on his childhood with exhilaration at his simple adventures. They for the best times of his life. His best memories - as an adult: they always include woman..(touching him). On his way to the Philippines to meet a former student, ( as a middle age old fart), he has to include the challenges of his physical health problems. He's had a cripple foot since childhood, and he's taking beta blockers, often using his pill- cutting device to take the prescribed dose while trying to time his medication with taking Viagra. As a prominent novelist... It's always women who will recognize him first, before men will. As a child Juan Diego was a bright- reading- dump kid. His sister Lupe, a year younger, were both were rescued by 'Father Pepe'... then live at the Church catholic orphanage run by the Jesuits. Dump kids never take feeling safe for granted.... but the idea was to provide them with more safety. So when he first came to the United States, living in Iowa, a University town, was exciting....as any adventure could be, yet as an older adult, it seemed it didn't really matter what country he was in, he pretty much felt diminished. So? What to make of this novel? Mostly, I guess... I felt that Juan Diego was a lonely wounded man. I like parts of this novel more than other parts. Im still glad I read it. It's also possible that by having discussions with others ...I'll see other ways of looking at this story... which will enhance my experience. 3.5 Thank You to Simon & Schuster, Elelweiss, and John Irving. I always appreciate the opportunity to be given this gift of being an early reader. I'll keep reading John Irving as long as he keeps writing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    B the BookAddict

    Avenue of Mysteries focuses on the life of one Juan Diego, a Mexican/American who grew up in a Mexican garbage dump, an orphanage and a circus. The plot centres on his life as a fourteen year old with his sister, Lupe, whose language only he can understand and also: Juan Diego as a crippled fifty four year old writer/former teacher who has a problem with the social attitudes of the Catholic Church. Featuring in the story is an in-training Jesuit turned gay who is in love with a transvestite, a l Avenue of Mysteries focuses on the life of one Juan Diego, a Mexican/American who grew up in a Mexican garbage dump, an orphanage and a circus. The plot centres on his life as a fourteen year old with his sister, Lupe, whose language only he can understand and also: Juan Diego as a crippled fifty four year old writer/former teacher who has a problem with the social attitudes of the Catholic Church. Featuring in the story is an in-training Jesuit turned gay who is in love with a transvestite, a lion tamer, a mother who is a prostitute, dump dogs, Jesuit priests, companion ghosts, Juan Diego’s gay parents both of whom contract Aids/Hiv virus, a man who may or may not be Juan Diego’s father, religious statues, a former student, Mexico, the Philippines, Lithuania and a girl who can read your thoughts. I had approached this novel with some trepidation, knowing that a few of my Goodreads friends had struggled with it. And likewise I struggled with it for a while. At around page 200, I had abandoned any hope of knowing whether I was reading about Juan Diego’s dream, his memory or his current story. But then I started to relax and just let Irving take me where he was leading and something magical happened; I started to enjoy reading it. All the pieces fell into place and I fell in love with Juan Diego and the life he leads. It made me laugh quite often, the oddly amusing and strange predicaments that Irving puts Juan Diego into, are so out there; only Irving can do this to his characters. I love it that this character is a writer, I love it that he has problems in his sex life, I love it that he has a connection with wrestling, I love it that he's a university professor, I love it that he has a physical disability which proves embarrassing, I love it that he is revered by a former student; just like many other Irving characters. Juan Diego feels comfortable, feels like I've known him before, he's the type of character you can nearly imagine living a life somewhere in the real world. I had started to have review stress, wondering how on earth I was going to summarise the events in the novel coherently but I've now abandoned any hope of doing that. In this novel, life is complex, messy, rarely fair and always unexpected. It is also funny, thoughtful, distracting, joyous and emphatic. Only Irving can make me have such a '360 turnaround' about a book! I think Juan Diego has earned a place alongside Garp and Owen Meany as my favourite Irving characters. Well done, Mr Irving 5★

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Foster

    (DNF @ 15%) Irving’s lost his touch. I hate to say it because he’s one of my favorites, but this feels like a lukewarm rehashing of previous material in a setting better suited to T.C. Boyle. Juan Diego is a neurotic writer, obsessed with taking his beta-blockers and Viagra and perving on women old and young. During his childhood in a Mexico slum he was known as the “dump reader” for his love of books. Now an Irving-esque middle-aged writer (with an Indian circus novel to his credit, to boot), h (DNF @ 15%) Irving’s lost his touch. I hate to say it because he’s one of my favorites, but this feels like a lukewarm rehashing of previous material in a setting better suited to T.C. Boyle. Juan Diego is a neurotic writer, obsessed with taking his beta-blockers and Viagra and perving on women old and young. During his childhood in a Mexico slum he was known as the “dump reader” for his love of books. Now an Irving-esque middle-aged writer (with an Indian circus novel to his credit, to boot), he’s on his way back to the Philippines to face his past. It’s entirely possible Juan Diego’s sister Lupe will turn into an interesting female character, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. I looked over the first six chapters several weeks ago and haven’t had any compulsion to return to the book. I particularly disliked Irving’s habit of always referring to his protagonist as “Juan Diego” or “the writer.” Maybe I’ll pick this up again someday, but at this point I’m reading so many other books that excite me that I can’t be bothered to continue. (Compare to In One Person, which repeats Irving staples but is at least likeable.)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I have been reading John Irving since my early teens--so well over thirty years now--and I read and re-read all of his books through Owen Meany. Those books (especially GARP, HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, CIDER HOUSE, and OWEN MEANY) had a massive impact on me. I adored John Irving from the very first book of his that I encountered. That adoration kept me reading everything he wrote after Owen Meany--I just stopped re-reading, and the books stopped rocking my world the way they had before, though I alway I have been reading John Irving since my early teens--so well over thirty years now--and I read and re-read all of his books through Owen Meany. Those books (especially GARP, HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, CIDER HOUSE, and OWEN MEANY) had a massive impact on me. I adored John Irving from the very first book of his that I encountered. That adoration kept me reading everything he wrote after Owen Meany--I just stopped re-reading, and the books stopped rocking my world the way they had before, though I always look forward to his new novels and still enjoy his books a lot. I especially liked Twisted River. AVENUE OF MYSTERIES was a bit of a slog for me--took me ages to get through it. I really liked the story about the dump kids but I had little interest in the modern day affairs of Juan Diego. Also the last twenty pages of this book seemed endless and boring--I found myself skimming. I feel relieved to be finished but also a melancholy disappointment. I don't know if I just wasn't in the right mood for this book or what--it was my least favorite Irving novel yet. Sigh.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Greg Zimmerman

    (First appeared at http://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.co...) There's no pulling punches on this one: John Irving's new novel, Avenue of Mysteries, is bad. It's my least favorite of all the books of his I've read — which is 10 of his 14 novels. Yes, indeed, Avenue of Mysteries takes its place at the butt end. It's a nearly focus-less, spaghetti-at-the-wall story, but with a totally cliché overarching theme of the intersection of dreams and memories. An aging writer named Juan Diego travels to the (First appeared at http://www.thenewdorkreviewofbooks.co...) There's no pulling punches on this one: John Irving's new novel, Avenue of Mysteries, is bad. It's my least favorite of all the books of his I've read — which is 10 of his 14 novels. Yes, indeed, Avenue of Mysteries takes its place at the butt end. It's a nearly focus-less, spaghetti-at-the-wall story, but with a totally cliché overarching theme of the intersection of dreams and memories. An aging writer named Juan Diego travels to the Philippines to honor a promise he made as a boy. During this trip, he periodically falls asleep and dreams of his childhood in Oaxaca, Mexico. His sister Lupe (the two kids are orphans) can read people's minds. They love dogs. Juan Diego is a good reader. They are devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe. There are ghosts, demons, arguments over Catholicism, arguments over where writers get their ideas (autobiography vs imagination), there is deviant sex, there is a Jesuit-in-training who falls in love with a transvestite prostitute, there are circus performers and lions, the AIDS epidemic, Viagra, etc., etc., etc. It's an utter mess. And the worst part? You'd think with all these disparate elements, Irving could at least spin us a good yarn. But no. The story itself — about Juan Diego wondering around in the Philippines with two mysterious women with whom he periodically has sex and the bildungsroman-esque flashbacks/dreams to his childhood in Mexico — is, with a few exceptions here and there (the 75 or so pages about the circus were great!), totally snooze-inducing. It's long, it's often repetitive (he re-uses the same phrases, or tells us the same piece of information several times, often multiple times in the same chapter or on the same page, as if we've forgotten, and he's reminding us...or he just needed a bit of editing), and, at the end of the day, just not the same quality of story for which Irving is known. So this makes four of Irving's last five novels that haven't even approached the level of his most famous and best works, like A Prayer for Owen Meany, which is still one of my Top Five favorite novels of all time. The Fourth Hand (2001) was okay, but just sort of odd, and a bit thin. Until I Find You (2005) was long and repetitive — my second least favorite of the 10 of Irving's novels I've read. Last Night In Twisted River (2009), however, was fantastic. I really loved it, and I thought this heralded a return to form for Irving. But then In One Person (2012) was decent, but uneven, and then with Avenue of Mysteries (2015), Irving just went off a cliff. Is this it for him? It's definitely a conspicuous downwards trend. Indeed, I can't even say for sure that Irving, one of my erstwhile favorite writers, is a must-read for me anymore if he publishes anything new. All I do know is that reading this made me really sad, and if you're on the fence about reading it, my recommendation is to read something better.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Now 73, John Irving is clearly in a retrospective, if not autobiographical, mood. Like “Last Night in Twisted River” (2009) and “In One Person” (2012), his new novel — his 14th — is fascinated with the portrait of the artist as a young man: How does a child progress along the avenue of mysteries that leads to becoming an adult storyteller? The complex response evolves from two distinct, but mingled story lines. In the present tense, we follow the beloved teacher and novelist Juan Diego Guerrero a Now 73, John Irving is clearly in a retrospective, if not autobiographical, mood. Like “Last Night in Twisted River” (2009) and “In One Person” (2012), his new novel — his 14th — is fascinated with the portrait of the artist as a young man: How does a child progress along the avenue of mysteries that leads to becoming an adult storyteller? The complex response evolves from two distinct, but mingled story lines. In the present tense, we follow the beloved teacher and novelist Juan Diego Guerrero as he travels from Iowa to the Philippines to fulfill a promise made years ago to a young draft dodger. Though Juan Diego is 54 years old, he’s so addled by the requirements of his flights and his medications that he seems decades older, an impression emphasized by his poor health, his crippled foot and the fact that “he’d outlived everyone he’d loved.” That sounds gloomy, but. . . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jaksen

    I won this book through a GR giveaway, and I read every word. I am mentioning this only because some of the reviews I've read here are from those who didn't finish. I did. Now not saying this is one of Mr. Irving's finest novels, because I don't believe it is. It has a little of everything in it: writer as MC; worries on dying and death; when to take a Lopressor or a Viagra. The past, present, and ruminations on all those who come and go - mostly go - as we move through life. AND magical realism, I won this book through a GR giveaway, and I read every word. I am mentioning this only because some of the reviews I've read here are from those who didn't finish. I did. Now not saying this is one of Mr. Irving's finest novels, because I don't believe it is. It has a little of everything in it: writer as MC; worries on dying and death; when to take a Lopressor or a Viagra. The past, present, and ruminations on all those who come and go - mostly go - as we move through life. AND magical realism, AND a lot about religion, mostly the Catholic Church. And sex, of course. Take all those elements, throw them in a blender, put it on high and see what comes out. You get a kind of soupy mixture that's a little about a lot of things ... The story is about writer Juan Diego and his reflections on his past, the things he remembers most, the way his life twisted and turned, his ultimate fate, and basically, how to get through each day. He's on a trip to Manila, in the Philippines and along the way he meets two women who step in - and out - of his daily routine.( Who they are and why they're there, that's a mystery.) It's also a travelogue as Juan Diego flies to Hong Kong, then Manila, and back and forth in time as he recalls significant events and people in his past. He starts out as a boy living in a dump in Mexico, where he rescues burned books and reads them. Never mind that the books are the throw-aways from a religious library. His sister can read people's minds; his mother is a cleaning woman and prostitute; his father might be the dump boss. There is lots of religious imagery and history, and a chief focus on Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan Diego gets involved with a novice priest, a transvestite, and the many members of a traveling circus. As a child Juan Diego lives in the dump; he lives in an orphanage; he briefly joins that traveling circus. Altogether, It's a convoluted story, one in which Juan Diego is the anchor. If you ever get lost reading this, look for Juan... Where is he? How is he? How's his health? Should he take the Viagra or the beta-blockers? How does he feel about the Church? About fate and destiny? About making choices, the big ones and the small? What about sex? Yes, no, maybe, why not? (There's also a lot of sex in the book, often described, frequently mentioned. I doubt there was one major character who didn't have sex, or talk about, or think about it - A LOT.) What are his thoughts on writing? (And here is where Mr. Irving gets to expound on a topic he knows a lot about.) Writers live in their imaginations and even when not physically writing, there is (almost always) writing going on in their heads. It's almost a struggle to step out of that world and into the real one. All throughout the book are references to the subject, including the 'big question' that writers often argue about and grapple with: Do writers write from personal experience? Or do they simply use their imagination to 'make things up?' Sounds simple enough, but it's a subject writers love wrangling with, citing their own backgrounds and experience and those of other writers throughout history. (Shakespeare is the huge example often cited on both sides of this argument.) I found it to be an interesting read. I put aside other books I'm currently reading to focus on this one. Not bad overall.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Snotchocheez

    Has enough time passed to discuss this travesty yet? Nope. To a dyed-in-the wool Irving fan, the experience is way too painful to relive.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Maxine

    Juan Diego, along with his sister Lupe, was a ‘dump kid’ in Mexico, scavenging for items to sell or use in the city dump. Among the things Diego had rescued from the fire were books, many in English, which were thrown out by the Church. Diego learned to read both Spanish and English with these books. Now, half a century later, Diego is an established and respected writer. All of his friends from his days as a dump kid are dead including Lupe and he has health problems. He is on a pilgrimage in t Juan Diego, along with his sister Lupe, was a ‘dump kid’ in Mexico, scavenging for items to sell or use in the city dump. Among the things Diego had rescued from the fire were books, many in English, which were thrown out by the Church. Diego learned to read both Spanish and English with these books. Now, half a century later, Diego is an established and respected writer. All of his friends from his days as a dump kid are dead including Lupe and he has health problems. He is on a pilgrimage in the Philippines to honour a promise he made to a friend all those years ago in Mexico. On his journey, he meets two women, a mother and daughter, who claim to be fans and quickly seem to take over his life including sharing his bed but who may not be what they seems. As Diego travels around the country meeting old friends and visiting shrines, and as he mixes his beta blockers with Viagra, he dreams about his former life and how it led him to here. Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving is a beautifully written book containing many of the motifs and themes of his previous works: the circus, orphans, and, of course, the Church and sex. But this is John Irving and because he revisits older themes does not make this a rehash of earlier books. This is a story about the importance of dreaming and imagination not only in youth but perhaps especially in old age. It is about sacrifice and love and mystery both in the secular and the religious and it is full of empathy, humour, and just a touch of the mystical. It will make you laugh in parts and frustrate you in others but the story and its many quirky characters will stay with you long after you finish reading. 4.5

  11. 5 out of 5

    Helene Jeppesen

    4.5/5 stars. I didn't think I was going to like this book as much as I did, simply because of the vague synopsis as well as the fact that I wasn't really in the mood for a heavy and complicated book. It turns out that I was after all, or maybe it's just because it was written by John Irving that I loved it so much. John Irving is slowly becoming one of my favourite authors. If you've read him before, you know that he writes unique characters and well-crafted stories that questions things and phe 4.5/5 stars. I didn't think I was going to like this book as much as I did, simply because of the vague synopsis as well as the fact that I wasn't really in the mood for a heavy and complicated book. It turns out that I was after all, or maybe it's just because it was written by John Irving that I loved it so much. John Irving is slowly becoming one of my favourite authors. If you've read him before, you know that he writes unique characters and well-crafted stories that questions things and phenomenons in life. "Avenue of Mysteries", his most recent release, is one of his best stories, I believe. It's got a sense of life experience to it which I really appreciated despite only being in my 20s myself. Basically, this story follows Juan Diego who's on his way to India. Juan Diego thinks back on his childhood and we get to know him, his sister Lupe and his peculiar life through these flashbacks. The story becomes hilariously absurd at times, but it worked perfectly for this novel! Furthermore, it contains symbolism and quite a lot of references to Shakespeare, so I wouldn't call this novel one of Irving's easiest reads. Nevertheless, I loved it so much because of the characters and the vibe it has to it, and I managed to get through it with a smile on my face, simply because John Irving is an amazing writer and an amazing storyteller.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Greg Dhuyvettrr

    Though I have read every novel John Irving has written, I no longer believed that he had the capacity to write a novel with the scope, humanity, and heartbreaking beauty of Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House, and (to a much lesser extent) Owen Meany. I enjoyed a few of the later works, but I thought that the writer had lost the ability to make me love a novel. Avenue of Mysteries has proved me wrong, to my great joy (and tears while reading). For a novel about death, it is filled with joy; fo Though I have read every novel John Irving has written, I no longer believed that he had the capacity to write a novel with the scope, humanity, and heartbreaking beauty of Garp, Hotel New Hampshire, Cider House, and (to a much lesser extent) Owen Meany. I enjoyed a few of the later works, but I thought that the writer had lost the ability to make me love a novel. Avenue of Mysteries has proved me wrong, to my great joy (and tears while reading). For a novel about death, it is filled with joy; for a novel about children raised in a dump, it is filled with beauty; and for a novel that has an unalterable tragic thread, it is a novel about choices. Juan Diego is the vessel through which the tale is woven and through whose eyes, the characters are seen. The mind-reading, yet unintelligible younger sister, Lupe (a Cassandra who both sees and changes fate) is a character who has been missing since the early novels. The other characters are a rag-tag collection of individuals on the outside of society who are shown (as in all of Irving's novels) to have dignity, value, and the innate ability to form family. Reading this and the other great Irving novels feels like Hemingway described the feeling of watching a bullfight (I am not endorsing bullfighting!). Every action points to the coming disaster, and every act makes the viewer feel the disaster more profoundly, but the action is so beautiful and the stakes are so important, you are drawn to watch it through to the conclusion. I loved this book!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Avenue of Mysteries - like the past several Irving novels (In One Person; A Night in Twisted River) - is simply a different Irving novel. In the middle of reading AoM I picked up Hotel New Hampshire just to see if I could tell what the difference was. It's lots, I guess - the tone, the dialogue, the characterization, the length, the pathos. Irving (I believe) once referred to himself as "a New England novelist" - and perhaps this is why AoM didn't click for me: most of the story takes place in M Avenue of Mysteries - like the past several Irving novels (In One Person; A Night in Twisted River) - is simply a different Irving novel. In the middle of reading AoM I picked up Hotel New Hampshire just to see if I could tell what the difference was. It's lots, I guess - the tone, the dialogue, the characterization, the length, the pathos. Irving (I believe) once referred to himself as "a New England novelist" - and perhaps this is why AoM didn't click for me: most of the story takes place in Mexico / the Philippines. Irving really thrives when he's in Maine, or Vermont, or New Hampshire (or Vienna!). I knew for some time that the days of Garp and Cider House and Hotel and Meany were gone...but that's okay. There is still some here to enjoy, but don't expect the 'classic' Irving of the 80s and early 90s (I would wager Irving wouldn't want you to expect that Irving!). I read one reviewer say that no one under fifty would understand this novel (Avenue), and perhaps there's some validity here. Maybe this is simply the kind of novel an older novelist writes, and again that's fine. Irving deserves to write whatever the hell he pleases, because he's given his readers so much. I hope there's still a couple more novels in Irving's tank. I hope he keeps passing the open windows.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I am really so done with this book, as it took me for. freaking. ever. to finish. It was Irving-ian through and through with the same types of characters and tropes we've seen in Irving's novels before. This isn't my least favorite novel of his but it almost is, however I gave it three stars because the setting is fascinating and unique. Overall, I just don't know that I'd recommend this to anyone but die hard Irving fans.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    No star rating, because I just couldnt bring myself to finish this one. John Irving has always been one of my favourite authors. I have absolutely adored everything I have ever read by him, savoured every word and devoted whole days to just sitting and reading his books. I have read about a third of this one and found myself heartbroken because I just cannot bear to pick it up again. Admittedly, I was scared off a little by the reviews, but they are correct. This is a bit of a stinker. Our main ch No star rating, because I just couldnt bring myself to finish this one. John Irving has always been one of my favourite authors. I have absolutely adored everything I have ever read by him, savoured every word and devoted whole days to just sitting and reading his books. I have read about a third of this one and found myself heartbroken because I just cannot bear to pick it up again. Admittedly, I was scared off a little by the reviews, but they are correct. This is a bit of a stinker. Our main character is Juan Diego, a famous author living in Iowa but brought up in Mexico as a “dump boy”. He and his sister were brought up by the dump boss and live alongside an army of children who survive by scavenging off the dump. His sister Lupe is a mind reader. Now an adult, Juan is taking a trip to the Philippines to fulfil a promise he made as a child to someone whose name he cannot even remember (which in itself is a bit weird). Forced by circumstances to withdraw from his medication, a combination of beta blockers and Viagra which have “stunted” his dreams, he is now finding his dreams and memories of his childhood are flooding back to him. My main problem with the book is that the adult Juan Diego didn’t appeal to me immediately, unlike Owen Meany or Homer Wells for instance, but just comes across as very dull and boring. I think he is supposed to be in his mid 50s but comes across as being quite feeble and much older, certainly not like anybody in his 50s that I know. In a nutshell, he comes across as characterless and, I have to say it yet again, just dull. It does seem to ramble somewhat, particularly about religious virginal icons with pages and pages devoted to describing a shop which sells statues and Lupe in particular being obsessed by them. I was skimming pages almost from the start and that is not a good sign. Now, John Irving has always shown a fascination for sex and this is no exception but I couldn’t get my head round that weird, extremely long religious type question and answer session that took place during sex; and not even straightforward bonking for that matter, but oral sex. I am sorry to be blunt and distasteful, but how could anyone be that articulate and coherent during sex, especially with a mouthful. I am gutted to say that I hated what I read, I feel like one of my idols has just been revealed as having feet of clay. Thanks to the publisher via Netgalley for the review copy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellinor

    John Irving is an excellent writer and except for his short stories I've enjoyed everything he ever wrote - until now. I'm afraid I have to say that I really didn't like this book. This is strange in fact because it had all the classic Irving elements - orphans, prostitutes, flatulating dogs, a circus, the playing-around with the "autobigraphical" elements etc. There were characters dying in absurd situations but I didn't laugh at them as I normalley would. The childhood part is usually the part John Irving is an excellent writer and except for his short stories I've enjoyed everything he ever wrote - until now. I'm afraid I have to say that I really didn't like this book. This is strange in fact because it had all the classic Irving elements - orphans, prostitutes, flatulating dogs, a circus, the playing-around with the "autobigraphical" elements etc. There were characters dying in absurd situations but I didn't laugh at them as I normalley would. The childhood part is usually the part I love best about Mr Irving's books. In Avenue of Mysteries it was much longer than usual and so the book should have entertained me but sadly it didn't. The Mexican setting sounded great too: The protagonist, Juan Diego, spends his childhood in Oaxaca, a town in the south of Mexico which I visited a few years ago. I loved this place and I found the story with the two Marys (Mary mother of Jesus and the Madonna of Guadalupe) very fascinating. All these elements should have made Avenue of Mysteries a great novel - but they didn't. I'm still not sure why. Maybe it was because the story (unlike the previous novels) wasn't told in chronological order: the childhood part was dreamed by the protagonist. The changes from past to present were very abprubt and I sometimes hade to make sure where in the story I actually was. Maybe it was because of the weird sex scenes with the mother/daughter couple Juan Diego meets on his trip to the Philippines. From Mr Irving's previous books I'm used to a lot of sex but then it always made sense. This time it didn't. I can't tell you. All I can say is that I'm disappointed by this novel and that it is the first Irving I can't recommend. (I received a free digital copy via Netgalley/ the publisher. Thanks for the opportunity!)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    The book starts slowly, but by about 1/4 of the way in, I was hooked. The story toggles back and forth between present day (and wakefulness) and the past (and dreams/memories). The parts set in the past are certainly the most interesting, and where the real story lies. Juan Diego and his sister Lupe are characters who will stay with me, just like many other Irving creations. In fact, I looked forward to Juan Diego's dreams/memories when Lupe's pronouncements and mind-reading were central to the The book starts slowly, but by about 1/4 of the way in, I was hooked. The story toggles back and forth between present day (and wakefulness) and the past (and dreams/memories). The parts set in the past are certainly the most interesting, and where the real story lies. Juan Diego and his sister Lupe are characters who will stay with me, just like many other Irving creations. In fact, I looked forward to Juan Diego's dreams/memories when Lupe's pronouncements and mind-reading were central to the story. She had a way of cutting through all pretense (perhaps that is what mind-reading does for someone?). Of course, we are all products of our past, so Juan Diego's present is just that - a product of his past. And therein lies the truth of the story. It's always fun to read Irving's books to see when he will slip in themes he has used before (the circus, the transvestite, the abortion clinic, etc) as it's like waiting for Alfred Hitchcock's cameo in one of his films. But if the references don't mean anything to you because you've not read other Irving books, don't worry. It doesn't matter as this book stands on its own.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sharyl

    Juan Diego left before I was ready. I'd come to like him very much and will miss him. He was a writer who started life in Oaxaca, Mexico, but then spent most of his life in Iowa. He was a man who rejected the tag Mexican-American because he felt he'd lived two distinctly different lives; his American self was not shaped by his Mexican childhood. He was either an American from Iowa, or a Mexican from Oaxaca, but not both at the same time. He was a man who had suffered many losses. It's best to let h Juan Diego left before I was ready. I'd come to like him very much and will miss him. He was a writer who started life in Oaxaca, Mexico, but then spent most of his life in Iowa. He was a man who rejected the tag Mexican-American because he felt he'd lived two distinctly different lives; his American self was not shaped by his Mexican childhood. He was either an American from Iowa, or a Mexican from Oaxaca, but not both at the same time. He was a man who had suffered many losses. It's best to let him tell those stories. He was a precocious boy who taught himself to read in both Spanish and English. He was also the only one who understood his unusually gifted sister when she spoke. He was her translator. These children's talents are the first sign of magical realism in this story, but not the last. There is much more to come. By now, it's apparent that Juan Diego was a serious thinker from an early age, as was his sister, Lupe. Their conversations with each other and the adults around them have much to do with religion, especially the Catholicism that was imposed on native Mexicans by the Conquistadors and European missionaries. It's interesting that Juan Diego and Lupe interact mostly with adults, rarely other children. Indeed, they both seem too old for children their own age. These adults--Father Alfonso, Brother Pepe, Edward Bonshaw, Flor, Rivera, Dr. Vargas, and their mother Esperanza--have very different ideas about life and religion. Lupe and Juan Diego can hold their own with any of them. But this is all in the past. Right now, Juan Diego is on a trip to the Philippines, a trip he'd promised someone a long time ago to take. (Juan Diego will go back and tell that story, too.) Now, it's forty years later and he's sitting in an airport, when he meets Miriam and Dorothy, mother and daughter, fans of his novels. They are very take-charge ladies (pushy). Who are these women? One of them shrugs in a way that reminds him of Lupe-- Lupe: After being disillusioned by the Virgin of Guadalupe, she makes things happen herself. That's quite a story. * Juan Diego is on his way to meet an old friend and former student, Clark French. It's a curious friendship, and sticking with Clark could get boring, but wait--Miriam and Dorothy are suddenly back in the picture...who are they? These women appeared in his life as suddenly as Edward Bonshaw did. Except Edward and Flor stayed in his life...that's a long tale (and worth every minute). Come to think of it, perhaps Juan Diego did tell me everything. I'm beginning to think he knew precisely when to stop telling stories. A novelist would plan that perfectly, would draw me in deeper the more I'd read until he was finished. Bravo! *(view spoiler)[ Lupe reminds me of Owen Meany. And there are some familiar John Irving themes, too. (hide spoiler)]

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Brooks

    John Irving is back with a wonderful book full of all the magic you would expect... except this time the novel takes place in Asia. A writer relives his past in Mexico as he takes a trip to Manila and meets a few interesting folks along the way. Familiar themes such as the Catholic church, fatherless kids, and "inappropriate" mothers all live in this wonderful novel. I laughed and I cried. Lovely.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael Robotham

    I'm a huge John Irving fan and there were scenes and characters in Avenue of Mysteries, which proved yet again what a wonderful writer he has been. Unfortunately, the story and premise didn't hold together for me. I loved the childhood material, but wasn't engaged in the present day story. I will continue to read Irving because he has always been a literary hero to me.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Perhaps the most touching Irving book I have ever read (which says something, because Owen Meany broke my heart!) This is an unorthodox story of faith, relationships and unconditional love from the unlikeliest of people. Highly recommend.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anna-Marie Mackenzie

    This is Irving's best novel since the wonderful "A Prayer for Owen Meany". He revisits similar themes, but with new and surprising characters and stories. He lets us know what the big plot points will be, but how they unravel is still beautiful and smart and touching. Imagination is sometimes more powerful than reality. Imagination is sometimes our only tool to survive. I am so pleased that I received an advance reading copy of this novel.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laurie Anderson

    Two plot lines here, one current, one in the past. I really enjoyed the plot line of the main character's childhood, but did not connect with the plot line of that character set as an adult.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    John Irving does enjoy poking fun at religion, especially the Catholic Church. In “Avenue of Mysteries”, he uses Juan Diego and Lupe; dump kids (aka the scavengers) of Guerrroro Mexico as fodder for his themes. The children live in the dump and are self-educated. They love their lives at the dump. Destiny versus free will is a huge theme throughout the novel. Lupe can read minds and reads the past, but she’s not so great at seeing the future. Lupe thinks she sees the destiny of Juan and herself, John Irving does enjoy poking fun at religion, especially the Catholic Church. In “Avenue of Mysteries”, he uses Juan Diego and Lupe; dump kids (aka the scavengers) of Guerrroro Mexico as fodder for his themes. The children live in the dump and are self-educated. They love their lives at the dump. Destiny versus free will is a huge theme throughout the novel. Lupe can read minds and reads the past, but she’s not so great at seeing the future. Lupe thinks she sees the destiny of Juan and herself, which she does not like, and does everything she can to change their futures. The local Jesuits notice the children and have ideas of their own for the children. A slew of other adults become involved in the children’s lives and try to do the best they can for the two children. In Irving fashion, he writes comically and with compassion. This novel is filled with eccentric characters, crazy situations, endearing characters, and horrific circumstances. He writes deftly, so the farcical and ghastly scenes are almost melded together. What some readers may find a bit taxing is that the story is told in alternating times. It begins with Juan Diego in his 50’s, taking a trip to the Philippines where he wants to fulfill a promise he made to a young man in Mexico when Juan Diego was a child. The story is told in the way that all of us are: we are present, but thinking about the past; reliving events of our lives. So the story is told in present, and then in a particular time in Juan Diego’s past, which the present sparked. It takes some time to get used to the rhythm, but it’s worth it. Although the present is linearly told, the past is spotty in recollection. Lupe is a riot. She tells it like it is; is at times a bit vulgar, but is always funny. Her character makes the novel. There are many other endearing characters that add to the story and are entertaining. If you enjoyed “The World According to Garp”, and found those crazy characters and farcical situations entertaining, you’ll enjoy this novel as well. As in both “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and “Garp”, questions of paternity are major. And if you did enjoy the magical realism of “Owen Meany” you’ll enjoy this. Some of the magic realism in “Mysteries” was a bit over the top for me, yet I went with it and enjoyed it because, well, it’s John Irving. I saw the silliness in it. I highly recommend the book because it’s a John Irving classic. Not everyone enjoys and appreciates his humor, but I certainly do.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    AVENUE OF MYSTERIES. (2015). John Irving. **. I looked forward to reading this new novel from Irving, but was sadly disappointed when I got it. Normally, Irving has a strong story line with fascinating characters. In this work, he focuses on two young people who grew up in the dumps of Oaxaca in Mexico. The young boy then becomes the protagonist of the novel, while the girl – who can foretell the future and read minds – dies. Irving jumps around in time with his hero, Jose, to the point where you AVENUE OF MYSTERIES. (2015). John Irving. **. I looked forward to reading this new novel from Irving, but was sadly disappointed when I got it. Normally, Irving has a strong story line with fascinating characters. In this work, he focuses on two young people who grew up in the dumps of Oaxaca in Mexico. The young boy then becomes the protagonist of the novel, while the girl – who can foretell the future and read minds – dies. Irving jumps around in time with his hero, Jose, to the point where you cannot make lucid connections with what is going on and how it relates to the story. Juan Diego ultimately becomes a best-selling author and sets off for the Philippines to carry out a service for one of his students, although he cannot really remember the student’s name. On the way, he meets a mother and daughter with whom he takes on a series of sexual adventures. None of these occurrences seem to drive the plot forward. I kept putting this novel down and then picking it up again. Finally, I just gave up. Most writers’ works are judges on their absolute value. With Irving, his works are judged on his previous efforts. Sad to say, this novel does not come up to snuff to his previous works.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Brisson

    Avenue of Mysteries is a Chagall. John Irving has painted a Chagall with words, a Catholic Chagall (not sure how Marc Chagall who was Jewish would feel about that). Of course the Chagall made most famous in the movies is the one with the goat and the wedding couple defying gravity. Irving has geckos, Virgin Marys, “dump” children, a gay couple, lots of Jesuits and some skywalkers in this very Chagall-esque novel. It’s a complicated story line with plenty of whimsy and deep philosophical contempl Avenue of Mysteries is a Chagall. John Irving has painted a Chagall with words, a Catholic Chagall (not sure how Marc Chagall who was Jewish would feel about that). Of course the Chagall made most famous in the movies is the one with the goat and the wedding couple defying gravity. Irving has geckos, Virgin Marys, “dump” children, a gay couple, lots of Jesuits and some skywalkers in this very Chagall-esque novel. It’s a complicated story line with plenty of whimsy and deep philosophical contemplation. Juan Diego and Luce live with the “dump” master on the outskirts of Oaxaca, Mexico. Some children survive by pulling things that are worth money from the dump to sell. Juan Diego and his sister have it better than other “dump” kids because they live with Rivera and they have a mom, who although beautiful is a prostitute and, oddly, also a cleaning lady for the Jesuits. Juan Diego shines above the other “dump” children because he is a “dump” reader. He taught himself to read using old Jesuit texts that were sent to the dump to be burned. In addition he knows how to speak English and he can interpret his sister Luce’s mysterious language. Luce is a mind reader, not a fortune teller. She is not as good at knowing the future. Father Pere takes a special interest in Juan Diego and so Juan Diego and Luce get very mixed up with the Catholic Church, although they are not believers. These two children are obsessed with the Marys – the one the Spanish conquerors brought over and the one discovered at Guadalupe whose likenesses both reside in the nearby church and more. The Catholic Church is, in fact, at the center of this Irving novel but the relationships people have with the church are anything but simple. Choosing between the rules and what seems like common sense creates a dilemma for many good Catholics. “Your rules! What do the rules have to do with the way people actually live?” Vargas asked him.” … “Of course the Church was ‘genuine’ in its love of poor people, as Clark always argued – Juan Diego didn’t dispute this. Why wouldn’t the Church love poor people? Juan Diego was in the habit of asking Clark. But what about birth control? What about abortion? It was the ‘social agenda’ of the Catholic Church that made Juan Diego mad. The church’s policies – in opposition to contraception! – not only subjected women to the ‘enslavement of childbirth’ as Juan Diego put it to Clark, ‘the Church’s policies kept the poor poor and made them poorer. Poor people kept reproducing, didn’t they?” Sounds a bit preachy but it isn’t. You know where the author (and the main character) stand but you are not obligated to stand in the same place as long as you don’t care about the author’s respect. This novel is not as cheerful as Chagall’s painting but it has plenty of symbolism to unravel (everything that happens in the Philippines, for example and those two strange women, Miriam and Dorothy) and it has its lighter moments as well as its profound moments. My unrequited love affair with John Irving continues.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Thomas DeWolf

    Caveat to begin... John Irving is my "go to" author. A writer I think about often and enjoy what he writes. When I think about my own career as a writer I think of him... how his first three books didn't sell much, and then he wrote Garp. So I imagine writing my own Garp. And I feel connected to John Irving as a result, and enjoy what he writes. This one was more challenging for me than the last few... tougher to get through the beginning, which is often a sign that the rest of the story will no Caveat to begin... John Irving is my "go to" author. A writer I think about often and enjoy what he writes. When I think about my own career as a writer I think of him... how his first three books didn't sell much, and then he wrote Garp. So I imagine writing my own Garp. And I feel connected to John Irving as a result, and enjoy what he writes. This one was more challenging for me than the last few... tougher to get through the beginning, which is often a sign that the rest of the story will not be any easier. This time, however, as the story progressed, so did my enthusiasm as I connected more deeply with the story and its characters. Avenue of Mysteries is a story of life and death and imagination and writing and wonder. Here's one of my favorite excerpts: “Treading water, a little like dog-paddling – it’s a lot like writing a novel, Clark,” the dump reader told his former student. “It feels like you’re going a long way, because it’s a lot of work, but you’re basically covering old ground – you’re hanging out in familiar territory.” “I see,” Clark said cautiously. He didn’t see, Juan Diego knew. Clark was a world-changer; he wrote with a mission, a positive agenda. Clark French had no appreciation for dog-paddling or treading water; they were like living in the past, like going nowhere. Juan Diego lived there, in the past – reliving, in his imagination, the losses that had marked him. Living in the past, or at least remembering and respecting the past and all it has done to create the present, is often very useful to writers. Maybe the most useful thing. I'm grateful for this story. It will impact my next one.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    I am so happy to be finished with this book. I was so excited when I saw that Irving had a new novel (I am a big fan of his earlier work), but have spent 6 of the last 7 days wondering when I could possible get through this repetitive mess of his most recent work. The story itself is a bit cannabalistic: both in that Juan Diego spends his time "NOT" being autobiographical, and yet sleeping his way through his memoirs and in that Irving (while not being a Mexican dump-kid) clearly is autobiographi I am so happy to be finished with this book. I was so excited when I saw that Irving had a new novel (I am a big fan of his earlier work), but have spent 6 of the last 7 days wondering when I could possible get through this repetitive mess of his most recent work. The story itself is a bit cannabalistic: both in that Juan Diego spends his time "NOT" being autobiographical, and yet sleeping his way through his memoirs and in that Irving (while not being a Mexican dump-kid) clearly is autobiographical in his portrait of Juan Diego (circus novels about India!). The whole thing is a bit ouroboros for me. I think I might have liked it (the story is sweet and Lupe is WONDERFUL) except Irving tells it bit like one's dotting Grandpa would tell it (oh wait, Irving is 73 now). He uses not just repetition to remind the reader of where we are in the story, but repeats whole paragraph passages. Literally! About 1/3 of the way through I started marking them. It is not just a 2 sentence "catch up" when we switch between past and present; he repeats 2-3 paragraphs from a previous chapter at least 4 times (I highlighted 4 of them). Seriously. This book needed to be edited better...cut that shit out! I was also annoyed by his not so subtle revealing of Dorothy and Miriam as ghosts. On the very first encounter (when the picture didn't turn out on the train), I figured they were probably not really there; the young couple was most likely looking at him funny because he was talking out loud to no-one. But, Irving thought he was cute about it. He circled back and forth and tried to make them real. Near the end I decided that the whole book was going to turn out to be a dream. I was wrong on that end, but really the heavy handedness in the Dorothy/Miriam "reveal" again reminded me of Grandpa trying to be "clever". Irving revisits the Catholic theme, but instead of providing insights, he just seems to re-hash and work through his own demons. Ultimately, I agree with others, Irving has lost his touch. Time to retire, old guy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Mullarkey

    I picked up exactly one book for myself at ALA this year and it was this advance copy of the next John Irving book. I love John Irving's work and of course any new book is a treat that I look forward to. I know many people who love him particularly for his early work - the fantastical characters and bizarre set-ups of books like The World According to Garp and Hotel New Hampshire. And other folks I know adore his more sweet, thoughtful books about social issues and tender people like Cider House I picked up exactly one book for myself at ALA this year and it was this advance copy of the next John Irving book. I love John Irving's work and of course any new book is a treat that I look forward to. I know many people who love him particularly for his early work - the fantastical characters and bizarre set-ups of books like The World According to Garp and Hotel New Hampshire. And other folks I know adore his more sweet, thoughtful books about social issues and tender people like Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. But I have been a fan of this recent run of gritty, realistic books about complicated relationships. Until I Find You was magical with its misunderstandings that unwound into a heartbreak of failed relationships. And In One Person again with secrets that aren't so much misunderstandings but lead to complications nonetheless. And now he has written a book of magical realism about an aging author reflecting on his youth. Juan Diego is a novelist on a trip from his home in Iowa to the Philippines where he intends to honor the memory of a long-departed friend's even longer-departed father. It is a meaningful trip for him though I get the sense that Irving mostly uses it as a device to move Juan Diego back and forth in time. On this trip he encounters two women, a mother and a daughter who are somewhat magical beings. They simply appear places, know things about him and how his future is going to unfold. They are magnetic characters and like magnets also polarizing. Between his interactions with these women and Juan Diego's tinkering with his prescriptions for Viagra and beta blockers his trip is alternately detached and surreal. He is often questioning reality and this experience is compounded by how often he slips into dreams that are remembrances of his childhood. And this was the really interesting part of the book for me. Juan Diego grew up living in a shack in a dump with his sister and a man who is "probably not his father." Juan Diego and Lupe are dump kids whose mother has two jobs, one as a prostitute and the other cleaning the church and orphanage where the two children will stay for a short time. Juan Diego is a relatively interesting young man but his sister Lupe is truly fascinating. She can read people's minds but her speaking voice is understandable only to her brother. And so the two are always together from their time at the dump to a brief stay at the orphanage and then on to the circus where their stories take a dramatic turn. There is too much story to lay out all the plot here. And you wouldn't really want me too anyway. But rest assured the John Irving trademarks are here: the orphanage, a transsexual love affair, fantastically gifted people and his wry sense of humor. And there are other things I loved too like a complicated book-long debate between which Virgin is *the* Virgin, a deep and abiding love for the dogs that live at the dump, a literary side trip to Eastern Europe and more. It is an exploration of time and fate and loyalty and voice and faith and I loved it in spite of the clunky way it moved back and forth from past to present. As usual it is filled with characters who will live on in my head and I suspect their interactions and philosophies will resonate many times to come as I see people in my real life interacting. And that's about the best thing I can hope for from fiction - that it entertains while I read and then informs and enriches the way I think about the life I am actually living on into the future.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    * I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways. * One star here, based on how completely this book annoyed me. If I weren't asked to review it as a giveaway, I definitely would have quit. I can't see any value in my having persevered to finish. Usually one star indicates there are no positive aspects of a book for me, and that's not quite true here. I loved the 1970s-era Oaxaca backdrop in which half the book was situated. Books with a strong sense of place usually pull me in, and * I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways. * One star here, based on how completely this book annoyed me. If I weren't asked to review it as a giveaway, I definitely would have quit. I can't see any value in my having persevered to finish. Usually one star indicates there are no positive aspects of a book for me, and that's not quite true here. I loved the 1970s-era Oaxaca backdrop in which half the book was situated. Books with a strong sense of place usually pull me in, and if not for the other half, I'd be more inclined to forgive other transgressions. But those transgressions? They were significant. (1) Lupe, one of the only compelling characters, was essentially a watered-down Owen Meany. She was not the only recycled element from Irving's previous books. But at least the recycled elements were recycled because they worked. As for the rest? One dimensional, pointless, dull. Clark, for example? Here is a character who serves as nothing more than a straw man for our protagonist to argue with. Come on. (2) This was unforgivably boring. Half the book took place in the present, in which very little of consequence happened beyond setting up flashbacks. It was 200 pages of Juan Diego falling asleep on various airplanes. You're going to insist that I am exaggerating. That can't be an actual book, can it? Oh it can! In the opening chapters, we discover that Juan Diego is skipping dosages of his beta blockers, mixing them with Viagra, and the rest of the book involves him coming in and out of dream-like trances. Oh the tragedy of declining virility! Thank goodness we have John Irving to translate this into a Great Work of Art! (3) John Irving has always had a reputation as someone whose female characters fare poorly. In this book, I think we have moved into full-fledged misogyny. Two women who have sex with Juan Diego are described as sucubi. A group of vulnerable, exploited girls are compared to a pack of lionesses, and he invests a truly disturbing amount of time to this analogy. An inconsequential female is repeatedly called a “venomous hamster.” And in the final pages of the book, a woman is off-handedly referred to as “big, at least 170 pounds.” (With extra attention to her breasts, naturally.) I struggled to understand these choices throughout my read, and I can find no defense of it. Juan Diego, our thinly veiled John Irving character, is presented as a contemplative old man, and by no means angry, fearful, or hateful. So what gives? This waste of time ruined my positive memories of John Irving's previous work, which I think I'll never return to. So thanks for the free book? Uggggggh.

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