Avenue of Mysteries

by Sheila McGee-Smith

I’m old enough to remember when John Irving’s The World According to Garp was a huge bestseller, 45 years ago. Though I’ve read other books by Irving over the years (e.g., The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany), it had been a while.Avenue of Mysteries

If you loved Garp, especially 40 or so years ago, you will enjoy Avenue of Mysteries. It has many of the same themes (orphans, sexuality, a bit of magic) but updated by an older writer with contemporary takes on the familiar themes. Like Philip Roth in his last few books, Irving seems to be exploring his own thoughts about aging.

Avenue of Mysteries shifts back and forth from the present day to the beginning of adulthood through the eyes of a man similar in age to Irving himself. I found the past more interesting than the present, but the present had its moments. The character I loved the best was not the protagonist, Juan Diego, but his sister Lupe. A damaged person, like so many of Irving’s best characters, he makes her shine.

I like long, complex novels and this one (480 pages and almost 21 hours on audio) delivers. I don’t think Avenue of Mysteries lends itself to being made into a film – many of Irving’s books have been – but I’ve been proved wrong before. Sadly, Robin Williams would have made a great Juan Diego.