The Last Chairlift” by John Irving

Genre: Literary Fiction/Sexual Politics The last chairlift
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pub Date: October 18, 2022 

At the 1941 National Downhill and Slalom Championships in Aspen, Colorado, skier Rachel Brewster competes in the slalom event. Little Ray, as she is known, doesn’t win. However, she does manage to become pregnant. Irving begins his new novel with Little Ray’s son, Adam, journaling his life. Young Adam is sweet yet defiant of his mother. He is determined not to learn to ski. She is forever telling him to stop wringing his little hands. This theme of defying authority runs deeply through the novel, along with those of neurosis and comic obsession. Little Ray adores, for example, Adam’s short stature, and that of his step-father.

John Irving is one of the prominent novelists of our time—it is a terrifying honor to be asked to review his work. His most recent book, which he wrote at the age of 80, is a 912-page tale laced with his recognizable brand of subtle detail and humorous dialogue. As usual, his characters are oddballs. They have flaws and quirks and sometimes they’re annoying or downright unlikeable, but you end up loving them anyway. Many of the topics touched upon, including sexual nonconformity, are exactly what you’d expect from Irving.

One of my favorite chapters is “The Lesbians’ Children,” which seems to encapsulate the spirit of the novel. Now a gay mother, Little Ray, and her lover, Molly, live happily together with Little Ray’s gay husband. Little Ray’s son, Adam is straight. His best friend is his older cousin Nora, who is gay. As a young teen, Adam needs to close his ears, and curious mind, to the loud orgasms of Nora’s lover, Em. Eventually, Adam will marry Em. Irving refuses to cage his characters’ identities, weaving these threads together with such wit and empathy, it’s hard to imagine the plot unfolding any other way. Ahead of his time, Irving’s 1978 classic, “The World According to Garp,” featured a rare example of a sympathetic trans character. The world may, at last, be catching up.

With such a lengthy novel, it’s not surprising to see it grow sluggish in places. Probably fewer chapters could have resolved this problem. But come on, it’s John Irving. The man is famous for long, strange novels. Did I mention the ghosts? Or the fateful lightning strike? Just get the book and sink in.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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