Irving, John: Last Chairlift (2022, Simon & Schuster) 4 stars

Review of 'Last Chairlift' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

John Irving’s much awaited new novel is a treasure chest of the memorable characters and backstories I love him for, and it is probably twice the length of Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. I mention this because another thing I enjoy about Irving’s work is that he always shines a light on other works of fiction that have factored into his life.

This tome focuses on Adam Brewster and his formative years in Exeter, New Hampshire, amongst relatives with diverse world views and lives. The reader can count on encountering some zaniness, here.

Adam has been born out of wedlock to Rachel “Little Ray” Brewster, an expert skier and former serious competitor. Since Ray spends part of the year as a ski instructor in another location, Adam spends plenty of time missing his mother. In her absence, Adam’s early experiences involve hearing his insufferable maternal aunts moralize about his mother’s situation, seeing ghosts in his attic bedroom, and having his grandmother read to him from Moby-Dick. He also becomes close to Nora, an older cousin. She and her girlfriend Em become important people in his life. Another wonderful, important character is Elliot Barlow, yet another adult who will act as a lodestar in Adam’s life. Additionally, his mother’s girlfriend, Molly, is also there for Adam, at times helping him to better understand Little Ray. All the while, though, Adam has burning questions about his father, who his mother will not talk about.

As the years pass, Irving reminds us of plenty of history, especially concerning sexual politics. The outside world’s opinions and laws affect the lives of Irving’s characters in profound ways, and their reactions are a vital part of the plot. Another part of Adam’s saga is aging, and the loss of these special souls in his life, and how they all stay with him, in various ways.

Bits of this book seem to be autobiographical. For instance, Irving’s biological father was indeed a mystery to him, so he let his imagination run with that. Irving even communicates, through Adam, that “biography isn’t good or bad enough to work as fiction,” at least in itself. It’s been an important ingredient in his novels, but not the most important one.

The characters Irving invents are memorably unusual and for the most part endearing. I certainly haven’t mentioned them all! Some parts of this saga would work well as short stories, and that brings me to my only criticism. This novel could have and should have been more thoroughly edited. There was some repetition at times, which would have been needed if it had been split into smaller segments, but altogether, it was too much.

I am honored to have read been given this opportunity to read this marvelous novel as an early reviewer. Many thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster.