Reading John Irving is like seeing an old friend – there are tricks and troupes you know he’s going to bring out, you may roll your eyes or relished them with joy, but it’s comforting to know they’re there. So in answer to your question, yes Avenue of Mysteries is your same old John Irving, lots of dogs, penises, odd children and mother complexes.
So while Avenue of Mysteries is readily identifiable as Irving, it is not my favorite Irving. I’m fully in the camp of Owen Meany and Garp when it comes to Irving. In Avenue of Mysteries Irving branches out by writing about two ‘dump kids’, Juan Diego and Lupe, in Mexico who go on to join the circus. Juan Diego grows up to be a great American writer. Ok, so when I put it that way, Avenue of Mysteries does sound like an Irving novel!
I liked the parts about the children’s childhood, but at least half the novel deals with a jet-lagged and pill popping Juan Diego in the Philippines. Oh boy, these parts did not work for me. There was a tad too much magical realism and dream-like states for my taste.
Who would like this book? If you are a die-hard fan of Irving you will likely read this novel regardless of what I say. In recent years, I’ve been reading less of Irving. I no longer grab every book he writes. For me nothing will ever compare to Garp and Owen Meany, and yet periodically I go back to his work. I love Irving’s writing style – so clean and crisp – and I felt that from the first pages of this book. But I might suggest that this book could be a hot or miss for dedicated Irving readers.