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Once again, I have finished a John Irving novel, but instead of feeling gorged on a literary feast, I feel unsatiated. The Hotel New Hampshire has been heralded by many critics, and it has sold very well, to the tune of some 350,000 copies, but I cannot find myself in agreement with the majority's zeal; from start to finish I tried to love the book, but I could not. However, I encourage you, if you have not already, to read the book; my criticism lies mostly in literary quirks that prevented me from fully enjoying the novel.

The book's premise is surprisingly simple; the parents of the Berry family try to fulfill their dreams by owning and operating a hotel. Of course, the plot is much more complicated than that, as it deals with sobering issues such as rape, suicide, and incest. The plot, however, introduced several problems that lead to my dislike of the story. Irving often used rape as a tool to advance the plot, and I cannot help but feel that he used it rather carelessly. That issue is but a minor problem that leads to even bigger ones.

Irving tried to introduce the illusion of chaos into the plot in order to promote its advancement, but I cannot help but feel that he failed miserably. The blatant acts of plot development overshadowed the natural progression of the story. The death of Iowa Bob, the plane crash, and the Viennese terrorists were all far too coincidental; these obvious attempts to rush the plot along prevented me from suspending my disbelief. I desperately wanted to become absorbed in the story, but Irving kept on making his presence very clear, as he loomed over every chapter as an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful god who could alter the course of events to precisely match his agenda for the book. John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces makes Irving's attempts at introducing chaos painfully obvious; the events that Irving created did not mesh with the reality of the rather mundane universe in which the Berry family lives.

On a similar note, John Irving's abuse of his characters for the promotion of theme bothered me quite a bit. Minor characters--Iowa Bob, the mother, Egg, the rape victims, the police officer--were all horribly misused for the sole purpose of making the plot slowly lumber along. The death and misfortune that all of these minor characters faced once again contradicted the reality of the story. The worst tragedies occured when Irving interfered with major characters. Frank became a homosexual with all associated stereotypes; Lilly's external weakness was matched by internal weakness, causing her to kill herself; Susie the bear altered her seemingly concrete sexuality and fell in love with John. Irving forced John to stop being the quiet observer and made him take on the role of a hero, but the drastic changes that John needed to make were short-lived and out of character: his weight training, the deceiving of his father for the old man's sake, and his compassion that allowed him to love Susie the bear. Franny suffered the worst fate at the author's hands, however; she often went from being a strong, young woman to a weak, little girl. The most memorable of these transformations, for me, occured around Ernst the pornographer. Her stern, chaste--toward men, at least--attitude broke around him, leading her to sleep with him. Although an argument could be made that these disparities are merely character flaws, I cannot agree; when Irving needed for a character to do something for the advancement of his desired plot, the character did it regardless of personality and prior actions.

Finally, one of the most annoying aspects of the novel had to deal with the excess of everything. Sex frequently dominated large portions of the book, and that could be forgivable, seeing as the story is one of coming of age. But the amount and detail of the sexual scenes was overbearing. The number of deaths and disasters, coupled with their severity, also echoed the exaggeration flowing throughout the book. Characters did not merely die, they died in the most fantastic and unlikely ways. The tragedies cast upon characters were equally implausible. And of course, there was the incest. The incest scene wouldn't have bothered me so much if not for the detail. To be honest, I even grinned a little at how silly the hours upon hours of passionate love-making seemed, but when the comment about whose blood was on the sheets arose, my amusement faded. I am not a prudent person, but that little detail was one step over what I was prepared to read. Yes, I know that it was Irving's intent to offend, but good taste was violated in the worst kind of way.

I saved the one thing that affected me in the book for last: Franny's rape. The urgency, the hopelessness, and the despair permeated an entire chapter,and it was real to me. I actually felt sick after finishing the chapter, but in a good way. I knew that Irving had touched me in a way that few books ever will; the scene thoroughly disturbed me, moreso than any gorey or morbid description of murder ever would. And with that thought, I have finished.

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