THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE (BALLANTINE READER'S CIRCLE) by John Irving

THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE (BALLANTINE READER'S CIRCLE)

KIRKUS REVIEW

How many times can Irving, novelist-as-juggler, throw the same subjects, metaphors, and tricks--bears, motorcycles, prep schools, hotels, Vienna, muscle-building, feminism--up into the air? Five times so far, including the renowned, genuinely endearing Garp. How many times can he then catch them? Only four times, it seems--because this time, in the weakest of all his books, the juggled pieces come clattering down around Irving's feet: he has again trotted out his genial cartoon . . . but here he has left out the animation. The Berry family, up in Dairy, N.H.--where dad Win teaches at a second-rate prep school in the Fifties--also includes Mom, eldest son Frank (who's gay), earthy Franny, narrator John, dwarf sister Lilly (who'll one day write a best-selling novel), little Egg, and Sorrow the dog. When the girl's section of the school fails, Win buys it and transforms the building into the Hotel New Hampshire: he's nostalgic for summers of his youth when he bellhopped at a Maine resort that featured a refugee animal-trainer named Freud and his performing bear, State O'Maine. (There's also been a bit of bad business at the school: sister Franny was raped, a dastardliness avenged by a big black football-scholarship student named Junior Jones--a sensitive big galoomph who predictably resembles the feminist footballer in Garp.) But though the kids have fun spying (via intercom) on the doings of the few guests in the rooms, the hotel is naturally a flop; and across a diaphanous bridge of narrative Irving marches the family next to Vienna, where the Berrys will help out old Freud the bear-trainer with his hotel. This second Hotel New Hampshire, on the Krugerstrasse, is no more successful. It does have, however, ""characters"" aplenty inside: whores, an ugly girl who wears a bear suit, radicals who attempt to blow up the State Opera. And there's yet a third Hotel N.H. in the future: it will function as a Maine rapecrisis center. True, all these hotels add up to a flabby metaphor--a sort of comic imitation of Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools. But what's most distressing here is Irving's sleepy narrative procedure: he sets up one or two big incidents hundreds of pages in advance, then desultorily plays with the set-ups until the blow-ups themselves come as tepid anti-climaxes. And, to fill the big chaotic spaces in between, Irving pads like crazy, picking out a few coy sermonettes here and there: ""But this is what we do: we dream on, and our dreams escape us almost as vividly as we can imagine them. That's what happens, like it or not. And because that's what happens, this is what we need: we need a good, smart bear. Some people's minds are good enough so that they can live all by themselves--their minds can be their good, smart bears."" Rape, families, the fate of European Jews--nothing, for Irving, is so big that it can't be chopped down to winsome size to fit in a blender-novel like this. Garp got away with it--the comedy was more centrifugal, scarier--and much of that bestseller's readership will no doubt want to sample this retread. But many of them will be sorely disappointed . . . because nothing lives at the Hotel New Hampshire but cuteness. And this lazy, toothless novel is mostly just a bore.?
Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1981
ISBN: 034541795X
Page count: 434pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1981




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