A Prayer for John Irving
The ageing writer stared out at the reader with all the intensity of an old athlete in denial. His fierce eyes and tight-lipped smile were islands of fading youth set amid the ragged 'scape of a craggy face topped by a shock of thinning grey hair brushed defiantly backwards, exposing a hairline receding like a melting glacier.
The reader was reminded of the hockey player Guy Lafleur during his last year as a Montreal Canadien, the team he had led to five Stanley Cups in the 1970s. The hockey player had been in slow decline for three years, become precipitous during the 1984-1985 season. The former 50 goal scorer managed a mere two in 19 games before hanging up his skates
There was no obvious reason for the hockey player's inability to score. To the reader, it seemed the hockey player could skate as fast, shoot the puck as hard, as he ever had; if anything, it looked like he skated faster than he once had — but maybe that was an illusion, a mirage, born of the fact that, though the old athlete's competitive spirit was as fierce as ever (or fiercer!), he had to work much harder even to almost accomplish what he had once made look easy.
But writers are not hockey players and analogies are treacherous tools. If some writers burn out early, as if they only had one or two books in them, others produce at a steady, life-long, pace without major ups or downs; still others — a minority, but not not a tiny minority — go out with a bang, leaving a masterpiece as their final legacy. Consider Joseph Heller, consider John le Carré, consider Mordechai Richler, as exemplars of the three types.
And consider John Irving's most recent novel, a long, a meandering and a very dull tome from a writer the reader is now certain ought to have retired once the first signs of auctorial impairment — a tendency to have his character give voice to the writer's political opinions — surfaced in the narrative of his last good book, A Prayer for Owen Meanie. (See A Widow for One Year for an especially egregious example.)
So let us consider Last Night In Twisted River. Full review, some spoilers, inside.