Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

Avenue of MysteriesAvenue of Mysteries by John Irving
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Image that T.S. Garp and Owen Meany were brother and sister. Next imagine that they started life as poor Mexican dump kids. (Is there any other kind, but poor?) And rather than calling themselves Garp and Owen their new names are now Juan Diego and Lope.

Now imagine that Juan Diego is an author of books that sometimes appear to have much in common with some of John Irving’s more famous, and infamous, works. But don’t read too much into that similarity because as Juan Diego often protests, his books are not autobiographical. Although, I do have a suspicion that he does protest too much.

“Avenue of Mysteries” contains miracles or possible miracles. There is religious ambiguity as well as sexual ambiguity. There are several John Irving style deaths, meaning comical, tragic and untimely. There are ghosts, or at least potential ghosts, or at least we hope they really are ghosts. They might be.

Juan Diego’s life plays in the present day, on a pilgrimage of sorts, to the Philippines where a somewhat obnoxious former student serves as his host. It’s is on this trip that he meets two women who may or may not be mother and daughter, who may or may not even be flesh and blood, at least not of the type we are used to. And his past returns to him often, in his dreams and in his imagination.

If you have read Irving in the past and you liked his work, I think you will really appreciate “Avenue of Mysteries”. It is not a re-tread of past glories, but a re-imagining of many. There is much that is familiar and, perhaps, I got too caught up in the “That’s from…” game. This doesn’t come across like leftovers—OK, maybe a little bit—but more like a fresh meal, an old favorite, but with a slightly different flavor.

I think the best books are the ones where the characters become more than props in an opera and, for whatever reason, whether you want them dead or alive, you give a damn. In that I think this book qualifies.


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