Tattoos can reveal personalities, but who knew the ink on a person’s skin could completely unravel memories, revealing recollections for the distorted fabrications they are?
This is the question Jack Burns finds himself wondering in John Irving’s latest fiction work, “Until I Find You.”
The novel chronicles Jack’s attempts to track down and sort out bits of truth about his past using only his mother’s untrustworthy word and the map of tattoos on the body of his father _” a man he has never met.
Jack, an actor most famous for his recalcitrant temper and knack for portraying transvestites on the big screen, has always been “just too weird.”
As he is about to find out, it happens to run in the family.
The son of Alice, a quixotic tattoo artist, and William, a runaway church organist with a tattoo addiction, the troubled womanizer spends a fraction of his very early years following his mother across Europe as she scours tattoo parlors and churches in search of information about William.
While Alice pays their way through a variety of North Sea cities by illegally tattooing in hotel rooms, Jack is introduced to a mixture of characters more diverse than the flash (examples of the artist’s work) on the wall of his mother’s makeshift tattoo parlor.
These are the characters who will shape his personality one-legged tattoo artists, little soldiers in off-duty clothing and, of course, prostitutes. (Come on, this is Irving. Prostitutes are a given.) These individuals will eventually help Jack untangle his snarled life.
The strange manner in which Part I of the novel is written initially seems unnecessary.
The section, which describes Alice and Jack’s seemingly endless search for William, is full of reminders that Jack’s recollections may not be entirely accurate as he was only 4 at the time the trip occurred. In true Irving style, these indications work their way into the novel chapters later, tugging at loose threads.
Details of Alice and William’s relationship have also been incorporated into the plotline, recounting their twisted story from various points of view, leaving the reader, as well as Jack, questioning exactly which version to believe.
Not one to downgrade even the most insignificant character, Irving supplies his audience with a look into the past and futures of nearly everyone that Jack has ever cared about even the girl who sat in front of him in the fourth grade.
As in the majority of Irving’s work, the characters grow on you, and the always elaborate plot drags you into a world of misinterpretation, flawed relationships and “trigger” words that can make old men take their clothes off in very public places.
While this novel is more sexually explicit than Irving’s past works and Jack is no T.S. Garp, “Until I Find You” is a must-read for every Irving fan.