Sex, drugs, and mariachi: Irving’s (In One Person, 2013, etc.) latest ventures south of the border and then back again, tracing the long road and unforeseeable turns that we travel in this world.
The sex is constant—at least the desire for it is. (“Juan Diego had noticed that Miriam’s breasts were also attractive, though her nipples were not visible through her sweater.”) The drugs: well, do Lopressor and Viagra count? And as for the mariachi, it’s the soundtrack to a long dream in which “it was impossible to tell where the music came from.” When you come to think of it, life itself is pretty much an avenue of mysteries, though, per Irving, not without its comedy in the midst of tragedy and disappointment. Juan Diego, whose very name invokes the first saint of the Americas, has had an eventful journey over half a century from the landfills of Guerrero to Iowa and literary renown; now an accomplished writer, he nears the end of that journey in a faraway city, drifting in and out of a long dream in which he retraces his steps. Or, perhaps, a step and a limp, for, in good Greek tragic mode, Juan Diego nurses a crushed foot that reminds him of the receding past with every ache. Now in Manila, a place that shares the English and Spanish halves of Juan Diego’s self but adds its own exotic element, Juan Diego confronts his mortality while puzzling out questions of a theological and much more earthly nature: the mother-and-daughter team that he lusts for over 500-odd pages, for instance, may be more than ordinary mortals, just as everyone Juan Diego has met may be angels or devils in disguise. Irving works his familiar themes—Catholicism, sex, death—with a light and assured touch, and though the dream-narrative construct is a little shelf-worn, it serves the story well.
Though not as irresistible as early works such as The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire, a welcome return to form.