Finishing a John Irving novel, as I recently did with his newest opus, Until I Find You, is both a sad and joyous time. Sad, because the odds are good that you won't be reading another new Irving novel for a good four, five years; and joyous, because to read John Irving is to find your faith in literature restored and your love for humanity renewed.
Those are strong words, and I'm all too aware that Irving's critics can't fucking stand the guy. "Enough with the 'modern Dickens' garbage," they say. "Enough with the sentimentality," they spout.
To which I say: Guilty, and guilty. He really is our Dickens, and he really is sentimental (and hey, when did such a humane word as 'sentimental' become a profanity? What's happened to us?).
His plots are improbable, his characters outlandish, his coincidences ripe and frequent. (Just like Dickens.) We grow to love the characters almost as much as much as we love our friends and family, almost as much as the characters grow to love each other. (Hence the sentimentality.)
But as with all great writers, there's 'something else' going on with Irving. He understoods, at a deep, profound level, the unfairness of the world. When I was younger, his books seemed filled with odd, brutal, disarming accidents and tragedies. As I aged, as I experienced more of the world, I suddenly realized that Irving's novels aren't odd, brutal or disarming enough. Living in the Philippines and Cambodia is enough to make you realize that the world is a savage place. (And getting whacked in the stomach by a two-by-four by a homeless Korean in Japan is enough to confirm that absurdity and violence go hand-in-hand.) Those who diss Irving for how ludicrous his stories are don't live in the same world I do. Those who bemoan his sentimentality are denying the common roots of love and loneliness that link us all.
Irving once said: "When I say I'm a storyteller, I'm not being modest." No kidding. I'll go out on a limb and say something that I was never quite sure of before, but am confident of now: that he's the greatest storyteller of the last fifty years. Not the most innovative, or modern, or erudite, or elegant, or stylish, or hip, or clever -- just the best.
Usually, when I finish a book, I'm on to the next one, usually by the next day, often within the same hour. When I finish reading a John Irving book, I want to start again. Immediately. Like, now.
I'm telling you: He's that good. There's no one better. I don't know how else to say it.
So, enough. Go read The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire and The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Son Of The Circus and A Widow For One Year and, now, Until I Find You.
Allow yourself into in his world. Fall in love with his characters (allow yourself that privilege; it's okay to love fictional characters, words on a page, punctuation in a chapter -- I swear; noone will know.)
All hail the king!
Absolutely loving a movie that the majority of people don't even freakin' like is a lonely feeling. You start to wonder: Is my taste in movies skewed? Are they all right and am I wrong? Are they sane, and am I a looney? Was I dropped on my head as a child? (If so, fuck would that explain a lot of things. But I suppose that's another post...)
However, any true film fan soon gets over such a sensation, and sticks to their guns. I still think Rocky IV and Superman IV:The Quest for Peace have been unduly, nay, tragically maligned over the years. I'm now convinced that Heaven and Earth is Oliver Stone's best film. (Though probably tied with J.F.K.) The three new Star Wars movies, the last of which was released last summer, are more complex, metaphorical, engagingly political and discretely profound than the incarnations that possessed me as a kid. (As entertaining? Well...) No Way Out, starring Kevin Costner, is probably the best suspense film ever made, with the saddest, most subversive 'trick' ending in all of cinema.
Anyone with me here? Anyone? No? That's alright. We like what we like, right?
And yet, I'm heartened by the fact that at least somebody else in the universe considers Lady In The Water as a cinematic event worth celebrating.
I usually read somewhat intellectual magazines like The Economist to try and figure out and understand the world around me, but the July 22-28th, 2006 edition features a review of M.Night Shyamalan's latest film that ends with the statement: "The result is a messy masterpiece, a portrait of turbulent transition, that constantly risks falling on its face but almost never does."
A "messy masterpiece", this anonymous reviewer writes (all writing in The Economist is anonymous, come to think of it); last week I posted a post titled "Lady In The Water: Something Close To Brilliant". And then read online in the next few days a million reviews stating that the flick was, in fact, the worst piece of garbage since, well, The Garbage Pail Kids. (Which actually wasn't half bad...)
But now. Ah. I'm vindicated. I called it as 'something close to brilliant'; The Economist calls it ' a messy masterpiece.' We're spiritual brothers, me and that magazine. A million and one people think the flick blows, but I, at least, I am not alone. Somebody else saw that Shyamalan was trying to do something new and different and special; somebody else recognized that it "risk[ed] falling on its face", and how rare, if not invisible, such a trait is in today's artists.
Me and my homie at The Economist can both spot genius when we see it.
I wonder what he thinks about The Karate Kid III...