cover image The Last Chairlift

The Last Chairlift

John Irving. Simon & Schuster, $35 (912p) ISBN 978-1-5011-8927-2

This overblown and underplotted behemoth of a novel from Irving (The World According to Garp) follows the idiosyncratic journey to adulthood of Adam, an illegitimate child born and raised in New England who becomes a writer. The search for Adam’s father’s identity provides a thriller element, but it never generates much narrative momentum. Dickensian in scope, the book includes multiple story lines, notably the complex love life of Adam’s lesbian mother, Little Ray, a ski instructor who marries a man who will identify as a woman. Nora, an outspoken lesbian cousin who’s a victim of sexual violence, also plays a significant role. Along the way, Irving chronicles American society from the 1950s to roughly the present, focused on feminism and sexual intolerance. His enormous imagination, his storytelling gifts, and his intelligence are all on display, but this feels more like a coda to his career, if one with a still-resonant theme about family and the maternal relationship: “We’re alone in the way we love our mothers, or in the way we don’t.” Irving’s fans may love this, but it’s not the place to start for anyone new to his work. Agents: Dean Cooke, Cooke McDermid, and Janet Turnbull, Turnbull Agency. (Oct.)