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John Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times--winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules--a film with seven Academy Award nominations.
Returning to Random House, his original publisher, Irving again limns a group of misfits, including a transsexual serial killer and gay twins separated at birth.
Though there are flashes here of the dramatic verve of The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules , Irving's long-awaited eighth novel is generally a tedious affair: rambling; lacking suspense; devoid of energetic or lyric prose; sometimes verging on farce and other times almost as lethargic as the sultry atmosphere of Bombay, where it is set. Here Irving is concerned again with people who do not feel at home in the world: immigrants, social outcasts, pariahs because of physical handicaps, those uncomfortable with their sexual orientation. The characters include a Bombay-born physician and secret screenwriter who feels as much a foreigner in India as he does in his new home, Toronto; a movie star who is synonymous with the role he plays; his twin brother, who aspires to be a priest but doubts his vocation; assorted circus performers, dwarfs and cripples, prostitutes, transsexuals, policemen, Hollywood figures, a blonde American hippie, Jesuit missionaries and more sad folk teeming with strange quirks and shameful secrets. The plot revolves around the murders of prostitutes by a transsexual serial killer, who carves a winking elephant on their bodies, and the legacies from the past that bring the main characters to the hunt for the murderer. The hefty narrative gives Irving plenty of room to speculate on outcasts of all kinds, the volatility of sexual identity, the false lure of organized religion, the insidious evil of class distinctions, the chasm between appearance and reality. For those looking for his trademark leitmotifs, Irving provides two: falling into the net and allowed to use the lift . He titillates by equipping a character with a giant dildo. He includes a strange homage to novelist James Salter. His attempt to provoke readers into empathy for humanity's lost souls is admirable, but his novel does not engage the reader until the last hundred pages, and that may not be soon enough to satisfy those yearning for a seductive story. (Sept.)
"His most entertaining novel since Garp."--The New York Times Book Review "A Son of the Circus is comic genius . . . get ready for [John] Irving's most raucous novel to date."--The Boston Globe "Dr. Farrokh Daruwalla, reared in Bombay by maverick foes of tradition, educated in Vienna, married to an Austrian and long a resident of Toronto, is a 59-year-old without a country, culture, or religion to call his own. . . . The novel may not be 'about' India, but Irving's imagined India, which Daruwalla visits periodically, is a remarkable achievement--a pandemonium of servants and clubmen, dwarf clowns and transvestite whores, missionaries and movie stars. This is a land of energetic colliding egos, of modern media clashing with ancient cultures, of broken sexual boundaries."--New York Newsday "His most daring and most vibrant novel . . . The story of circus-as-India is told with gusto and delightful irreverence."--Bharati Mukherjee, The Washington Post Book World "Ringmaster Irving introduces act after act, until three (or more) rings are awhirl at a lunatic pace. . . . [He] spills characters from his imagination as agilely as improbable numbers of clowns pile out of a tiny car. . . . His Bombay and his Indian characters are vibrant and convincing."--The Wall Street Journal "Irresistible . . . powerful . . . Irving's gift for dialogue shines."--Chicago Tribune