First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
John Irving has written some of the most acclaimed books of our time – among them The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and A Widow for One Year. Time Magazine describes his work as “epic and extraordinary and controversial and sexually brave.” Now Irving has written what he calls his last long novel – only shorter ones ahead.
In Aspen, Colorado. In 1941, Rachel Brewster is a slalom skier at the National Downhill and Slalom Championships. Unremembered in the competition, Little Ray, as she is called, finishes “nowhere near the podium,” but she manages to get pregnant. Back home, in New England, Ray becomes a ski instructor. Her son, Adam, grows up in a family that defies conventions and evades questions concerning the eventful past. Years later, looking for answers, Adam will go to Aspen. In the Hotel Jerome, where he was conceived, Adam will meet some ghosts; in The Last Chairlift, they aren’t the only ghosts he sees.
If you’ve never read a John Irving novel, you’ll be captivated by storytelling that is tragic and comic, embodied by characters you’ll remember long after you’ve finished their story. If you have read John Irving before, you’ll rediscover the themes that make him a bard of alternative families – a visionary voice on the subject of sexual freedom. The author’s favorite tropes are here, but this meticulously plotted novel has powerful twists in store for readers. The Last Chairlift breaks new artistic ground for John Irving, who has been called “among the very best storytellers at work today” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), “the American Balzac” (The Nation), “a pop star of literature, beloved by all generations” (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich), and “the unsurpassed master of whirling plots, unforgettable characters and sharp satire” (NRC Handelsblad, Amsterdam). With The Last Chairlift, readers will once again be in John Irving’s thrall.
Happy Friday everyone! Two weeks down. How is your 2023 going? I hope that it was great as I hope that 2023 will be a year of blessings, healing, good news, and good tidings for everyone. While uncertainties loom, we welcome this new year brimming with hope; hope springs eternal after all. I hope everyone is doing well. I hope that you are all healthy, in mind, body, and spirit. After chalking up another work week, I hope you get to enjoy the weekend. I hope you were able to accomplish everything you sought to accomplish at the start of the week. I hope that everyone is ending the week on a high note. If your week went otherwise, I hope you get to rest and recover. Let’s jump into the weekend!
Before I can jump into the weekend, let me cap the work week with a new First Impression Friday update. Just like how I started 2022, the first few weeks of 2023 are going to be spent catching up on 2022 releases I was not able to read last year. So far, I was able to complete two: Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead and Shehan Karunatilaka’s Booker Prize-winning sophomore novel, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. This makes eight of my last nine reads 2022 releases. I am currently reading John Irving’s latest novel, The Last Chairlift. This is my fifth novel by the prolific American storyteller, a reader-writer relationship that started way back in 2015.
Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that Irving is going to release a new work in 2022 until later that year; Cormac McCarthy also released a new work in 2022, his first since his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road. Anyway, when I learned about this new release, my interest was immediately piqued. It also helped that I was fresh off The World According to Garp, the first novel by Irving I read since early 2019. As I am in the midst of a 2022 reading catchup, I didn’t hesitate in reading the book despite its length; it is rather thick. I am rarely daunted by thick books so I might as well dig in.
The heart of the story is Adam Brewster. He was the illegitimate son of Rachel Brester – or Little Ray as she would be fondly called by everyone dear to her – a slalom skier. Rachel participated at the National Downhill and Slalom Championships in Aspen, Colorado in 1941. Her results were forgettable but she did not leave Aspen empty-handed; she was pregnant with Adam. Adam would then be raised in his mother’s hometown of Exeter, New Hampshire. Adam was raised by his grandmother and grandfather. His grandfather, who was degenerate when we first met him, was once a schoolmaster at the Philip Exeter Academy. Little Ray was the last of three daughters, a miracle as their mother would call her as Rachel was conceived during a critical juncture in their parent’s marriage.
Do some of these elements sound pretty familiar? I did think so. Upon being introduced to Adam and his backstory, I was immediately reminded of The World According to Garp. Garp and Adam share several similarities. Both were illegitimate sons. Their mothers were basically absentee parents; Garp’s mother was preoccupied with her feminist activism while Little Ray spends half of the year in Aspen where she works as a ski instructor. The distance between mothers and sons, however, did not preclude the sons from loving or admiring their mothers. Both main characters were also raised around the Philip Exeter Academy; to be fair, New Hampshire and the Academy was the primary setting for several of Irving’s works. Moreover, both characters would also become wrestlers representing the school in competitions. Unconventional family dynamics were also highlighted in The Last Chairlift
Regardless of the several parallels between his works, there was always a different element that distinguishes his works from each other. Garp explored the rise of feminism while, at the same time, exploring the influences of fatherhood. In The Last Chairlift, Irving took it up a notch as he explored the intricacies of homosexual relationships and transgenderism. Identity is, after all, a common subject in Irving’s works. Homophobia and transphobia were inevitably explored. In a way, the novel was an examination of the current state of American society, with the escalation of homophobia and the scrutiny of the usage of pronouns. It is no surprise that scathing political commentaries were also prevalent in the novel. Yes, the American gun culture was also underlined in the novel even though it was primarily set in the second half of the 20th century. The signs have always been there.
I am halfway through the book and the abundance of subjects it has explored makes me marvel at Irving’s capabilities as a writer. The story, however, drags at parts which makes me want to finish it as soon as I can. One subject that I liked about the novel was the extensive commentaries on different films. Literature was also ubiquitous, with Moby-Dick a recurring reference. Adam was also a devout fan of Thomas Mann. One of Adam’s girlfriends was also a writer. And since this is a novel by Irving, do expect a lot of sex and sexual references. This is, again, inherent in his work and rarely an embellishment. I still have a long way to go and it seems that there are a lot of incidents – this is an eventful story – that is going to happen. How about you fellow reader? What book or books are you taking with you for the weekend? I hope you get to enjoy them. Again, happy holidays everyone!