It’s time to own it, I suppose. I have to say, his early stuff was fantastic and then it did get very self-indulgent which is disappointing but I did just recently see a quotation from someone saying that a writer does their best work in the first twenty years. (Maybe? maybe not.)
If you want to read some excellent Irving, may I suggest the following, in this exact order. (Even though it’s not chronological)
1. The World According to Garp (Described by Irving as “An artfully-disguised soap opera.”)
2. The Hotel New Hampshire
3. The Water-Method Man
4. 158-Pound Marriage
I guess I should say what I like about his stuff. I like the chaotic melees, his celebration of the bizarre in the prosaic, the almost slap-stick humour (although I have to say I don’t like slap-stick humour visually, just on the page), the tender and vulnerable male characters (especially Garp and his catastrophising of how his young sons might come to a grisly end), Vienna, sex workers, amputation of body parts, sexual assault & rape. I also like the recurring motifs he used. The repeat appearances of bears, wrestling, neurotic characters and other themes were intriguing and strangely comforting. Wikipedia had a chart of all the motifs, I tried to find it again but couldn’t and found it on someone else’s blog.
Here is is.
Just googling around the traps, it seems people really rate Owen Meany. S’pose I should give it a try sometime.
Note: Setting Free the Bears was his first novel, it’s okay but the above four are terrific. I suppose you could add in The Cider House Rules but that never drilled right down into my soul the way the other four did.