(Knopf Canada, 2012)
For anyone who has read any of John Irving’s novels, you will know to expect a crazy cast of characters. This novel is no different and once again Irving is tackling sexuality, gender roles and identity. Nearly everyone in the novel is wrestling with his or her sexual identity, but for all the sex in the book their is a dirth of emotion. Irving writes about sex in the way that a wrestling coach (the author was a wrestler and wrestling coach for decades) might talk to a high school class about sexuality. There is a lot about who gets to be on top or bottom, more about various holds and strategies, but very little emotional content.
Set in the late 60’s and on through the AIDS epidimics of the 80’s, the novel is a great catalogue of the ways in which gender issues can mark a life.
Another of Irving’s familiar tropes is that he has his novel set in an all boys school. If ever you want an advertisement for keeping your kids in a public school this might be it! If you are reading Irving for the first time, give this one a pass and go read “The World According to Garp” or “The Cider House Rules.”