I was very excited to unwrap an Avenue of Mysteries on Christmas morning because I am a long time fan of John Irving. I wrote my OAC ISP on two of his books and A Prayer for Owen Meany is still on my list of favourites. I’m a very happy reader when he publishes new material.
When I opened the book to start reading it, a bookmark fell out of it and it was a sign to me that I would like this book. I liked all the books on the bookmark and the quote on it explained Irving so well.
I dove right in and met Juan Diego, a Mexican-American writer who grew up in Mexico with his sister Lupe. Juan Diego and Lupe were dump kids but Juan Diego was a reader – he taught himself how. They lived with the Dump Boss, Rivera, instead of their mother who cleaned for the Jesuits. Lupe read minds and possibly the future but only Juan Diego could understand what she said at any given time. The setting and the characters set a great stage.
It’s an incredibly fascinating story because you get to meet Juan Diego as an adult traveling to the Philippines and through his dreams and memories, you get to meet him as a 14 year old in Oaxaca. The cast of characters Irving created is interesting and fun in both Juan Diego’s childhood and his adventure to the Philippines as an adult. In Oaxaca, Juan Diego’s life was made full with Jesuit priests, a doctor, a transvestite prostitute, a circus full of characters and of course Rivera and despite being a dump kid, he was loved. Then as an adult traveling, he meets two mysterious women who seem to keep appearing at places throughout his trip. The Philippines reminds him of Mexico and by tinkering with his beta blockers, his memories seem to come to life.
“The past surrounded him like faces in a crowd,” Juan Diego had written (Irving, 318)
A quote from Juan Diego’s writing that he recalls summed up the book for me. I was intrigued by the present but loved his past and like so many of Irving’s books, I met characters that will stick with me because they are unique and quirky and integral to the story. There is also so much magic in his storytelling and sometimes the magic is almost real (think miracles). That, along with some familiar themes I remember from other books, made me wish I hadn’t finished it yet.
I highly recommend an Avenue of Mysteries and would happily recommend some of John Irving’s other books if you’re looking for some great contemporary American Literature.
PS. This was book 1 of the year. 51 to go!