Avenue of Mysteries (A Format Om) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2016/6/7
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Juan Diego’s little sister is a mind reader. As a teenager, he struggles to keep anything secret – Lupe knows all the worst things that go through his mind. And sometimes she knows more. What a terrible burden it is to know – or to think you know – your future, or worse, the future of someone you love. What might a young girl be driven to do if she thought she had the power to change what lies ahead?
Later in life, Juan Diego embarks on a journey to fulfil a promise he made in his youth. It is a long story and it has long awaited an ending, but Juan Diego is unable to write the final chapters.
This is the story of what happens when the future collides with the past.
"From the first page to the last, there is a goodness to this novel, a tenacious belief in love and the redemptive power of human connection, unfettered by institutions and conventions. This belief, combined with good old-fashioned storytelling, is surely why Irving is so often described as Dickensian. But John Irving is his own thing, and so is his new novel. Avenue of Mysteries is thoroughly modern, accessibly brainy, hilariously eccentric and beautifully human." (Tayari Jones New York Times Book Review)
"Irving has packed so much detail in . . . And yet he has not run out of what has endeared him to so many for so long: immense charm, an appetite to hurtle headlong at the biggest questions and the altogether unfashionable belief that sentimentality is not a crime against art" (Guardian)
"Mischievous . . . Challenging and absorbing . . . Juan Diego emerges as one of Irving’s most memorable and fascinating creations, which is saying something. He is a twenty-first century Garp." (Herald)
"Irving has embarked on his dark phase, as did Dickens. It will be interesting, if melancholy, to follow him down that gloomy avenue" (The Times)
"A typically idiosyncratic Irving novel: at times exhausting, at other times rambling and self-indulgent, but always readable, impassioned and thought-provoking" (Mail on Sunday)
AVENUE OF MYSTERIES (a novel set in Mexico, the Philippines and, briefly, Iowa) he enters the waters with both feet -- actually, he immerses himself, AND his characters.
Like a strand of DNA, there are two intertwined, inseparable stories being told from the start: the first is that of the older (over 50) Juan Diego Guerrero -- successful, somewhat famous, writer (and sometime teacher at the Writers workshops in Iowa) -- who is travelling to the Philippines to fulfil a promise made to a kind, American (draft-dodging) stranger he met as an orphan in Mexico. His American doctor has recently prescribed both beta blockers (Lopressor) and sexual stimulants (Viagra), because the beta blockers make him tired. The combination of the two drugs interfere with Juan Diego's often vivid dreams, an essential tool for a writer of fiction. So he tends to NOT follow the prescribed dosage everyday. Thus, the weary writer -- a flight to the Philippines is a looong flight, not to mention the short jaunts when he arrives -- is prone to nod off, and dream of his past. Which brings us to the second, but inter-twined, strand of narrative.
As a boy in Mexico, Juan Diego grew up as an orphan who worked in the dumps of Oaxaca. In Mexico, there are entire families who make a living sorting things like copper and other recyclables from the huge dumps, and helping burn other parts of the refuge. In addition to sorting, Juan Diego also rescues many books (which make good fire material). Being much brighter than most, the young boy teaches himself to read in two languages(the books are in Spanish and English). Juan Diego is also handicapped, from an accident involving a truck, which left him with a crippled foot. And Juan Diego's sister, Lupe, has a strange malformation of the vocal chords that impairs her speech: only Juan Diego can understand her, so they stick together. Lupe is also clairvoyant: she can ALWAYS tell what someone is thinking, and she can see their past. Occasionally, she can see their future; but sometimes her visions of such aren't clear.
The pair are looked after by El Jefe (a man named Rivera, who is in charge of the Guerrero dump, and is a sort of pseudo father figure) and Brother Pepe, a Jesuit teacher who (after discovering Juan Diego's remarkable feat of self-education) manages to get the boy and his sister to one of the church orphanages (their mother, a gorgeous prostitute, works as a cleaning lady for Pepe's Catholic church during the day). But the two orphans are determined to try and have a hand in their own fates. Especially since life at the church orphanage isn't what they want -- neither orphan is much of believer when it comes to Catholicism (they have a tempestuous relationship with the Virgin Mary and the "Lady of Solitude, Guadalupe, a local saint).
And fate -- via the influences of two miserly, Catholic priests as well as an atheist doctor -- is determined to try and have it's way Juan Diego and Lupe. Because the pair end up -- for a time -- with a local circus, which features a lion tamer who abuses his authority (sleeping with the young girls who go to the circus for a chance at a life that DOESN'T involve prostitution or homelessness, though it means performing aerial acrobatics without a net).There is also (remember, Lupe can see vague visions of the future) the possibility of true danger for Juan Diego, who believes he can overcome the limitations of his handicap by taking to the air, as the first male circus aerialist (and it doesn't hurt that he finds the star "skywalker", Dolores, very beautiful).
All of this back story is told simultaneously with Juan Diego's present story, and hegira, to the Philippines, where the writer will meet a former writing student -- Clark French, a stolid believer in Catholicism -- and fulfil his long-ago promise. Along the way (from the start of his journey, in fact) Juan Diego is looked after and, well, satiated (sexually) by two women: Miriam and Dorothy (anyone paying attention may or may not see the duality in their relationship with Juan Diego -- he of the Mother Mary/Guadalupe upbringing). While the two women present themselves -- in the New York airport, while all three are waiting for their flight -- as fans of Juan Diego's writing, they quickly prove themselves to be something much more (after learning of his former teachers sexual relationships -- with BOTH women!-- during his travels, Clark French suggests they are succubi). Dorothy, the "daughter", is given to screaming orgasms that seem to be spoken in an old Aztec language. And Miriam moves so quickly she can spear a lizard with a salad fork before anyone blinks! Neither lady seems to cast any reflections.
A funny, moving, sometimes contentious (there are plenty of arguments between characters about the nature of the Catholic church, and how much it does or does not help its many followers) but always moving story, AVENUE OF MYSTERIES is, at heart, a tale about fate vs. free will, people struggling with their faith, and about trying to create a world wherein one has a sense of belonging, figuring out one's place in th world. As with most Irving novels, issues of faith, of nationality (a timely topic given America's obsession with immigration at the moment), sexuality, and creativity (specifically the creative habits and process of writers) are broached; but always with a sense of humor, and with great compassion. Like Garp, Juan Diego is a writer who has gained an amount of fame. Unlike Garp, Juan Diego isn't given to raging "against the machine" nearly 24 hours a day. Partly because Juan Diego is older -- and, of course, on beta blockers -- but partly because he is a more thoughtful, more laid back character than they young and impetuous Garp. But readers who enjoy Irving's fiction as much as I do will find themselves growing attached to the Orphan of Oaxaca, writer Juan Diego, not to mention his mind-reading sister Lupe (who, in her sometimes colourful speech patterns and big-hearted love of dogs is reminiscent of Franny, from THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE), Flor (the heart-of-gold hooker/transvestite) and Eduardo (a true believer who uses flagellation to purge himself; until he falls in love with Flor) and El Jefe, the almost-father of the orphan brother and sister.
For readers who have sometimes been flummoxed by Irving's fairly recent forays into literary experimentation (such as A SON OF THE CIRCUS, with it's intricate plot and narrative, or UNTIL IF FIND YOU and LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER, wherein Irving first started playing with the idea of memories and the past at greater length, or IN ONE PERSON, in which Irving truly embraced the idea of sexual outsiders, dealing with topics that made some uncomfortable), AVENUE OF MYSTERIES will feel like more familiar ground (yes the dual narrative might be a "bit" challenging to some, but since both narratives illuminate each other -- and feature those two mysterious women figures -- it will be worth the effort). For those long-time Irving readers who, like me, love 90-99 percent of everything he writes (yes, Irving has his fictional writer reference old books that sound like his own -- a nice tip of the hat to steadfast fans), AVENUE OF MYSTERIES will be a welcome, and long overdue, foray into the genre of magic realism (A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY doesn't count, since the narrative was told first person, and John Wheelwright could've been suffering from delusions). After all, THIS novel features a mind reader (Lupe) two women who are supernatural or otherworldly (Miriam and Dorothy) and, near the novel's end (during Juan Diego's sojourn to the Philippines), several ghosts.
And for all concerned, AVENUE OF MYSTERIES will prove to be funny, moving and ultimately thoughtful novel about how we choose to let fate and free will define our lives -- and everything that comes afterwards.
Grandpa Simpson was talking about strike breaking, but much the same could be said of John Irving's storytelling. At the age of 73 when he wrote 'Avenue of Mysteries', Irving's abilities have faded. His famous wit is still visible and recognisable, but it's a shadow of its former self. Like many elderly novelists, Irving is now more about rumination than narration, which does not make for an engaging plot. Somewhere underneath his old man meandering there's a potentially interesting story, but it stays submerged as he slowly chews his way through unremarkable scenes, solid blocks of exposition, and, just to add a little kick to proceedings, some of the worst sex writing of the year, if not the decade.
Twenty or thirty years ago Irving might have been able to wrest a corker of a story out of this scenario, but now the only bits that aren't tedious are clumsy. It's not completely unreadable, but it doesn't deserve more than 2 out of 5 stars.