Bookish Banter- The Last Chairlift by John Irving

Look at us! Julie and I got through the nearly 900 page newest John Irving book, The Last Chairlift, during the start of the holiday season! There are some spoilers in here, be warned! 

Julz: This is the first time I’ve ever read Irving “hot off the presses.”  It was quirky and cute and vulgar and fun.  And of course, all the sex.  And of course there were some slightly odd anecdotes like “the kiss of questionable judgment” that Ray gave to Adam (ew) and the fact that Adam slept with his dad’s wife.  Um yeah.

Christine: I could get over the stepmom sex, since he didn’t grow up with her (Julz: Agreed), but the boundaries between Adam and Ray were a bit too poorly defined for me at times (Julz: Also, agreed). I thought the expression Em’s sexuality was interesting too, the fact that she expressed herself so loudly in the heat of the moment and was silent the rest of the time was such a deliberate commentary on the importance sex, and even intimacy as a whole,  played in the book. Also intentional was his lack of discussion about Adam’s sex with Grace. What did you think of her? 

Julz: I liked Em, especially when she started speaking.  The pantomime thing didn’t work too well in writing.  I’m glad she and Adam could support each other as spouses and writers.   

I thought it was hilarious that it was the crazy wedding weekend (yeast infections, lesbians, orgasms, electrocutions) that Adam, “… decided to adopt an uncharacteristic nonchalance.  I would henceforth appear to understand, or be indifferent to, everything.” That was a hell of a weekend…

Christine: That section was one of my favorites! Can you imagine it as a movie? Such shenanigans. So much of the story grew from that weekend- Ray and Mr. Barlow’s relationships, Nora and Em’s sexuality, ghosts, Molly’s role in their lives (loved her, by the way), etc… 

Julz: The only people in Adam’s life who appear to have died natural deaths were Nana and Molly (despite her best efforts).  Think about all of the outrageous ways people died like the diaper man previously mentioned.  Aunts, scared to death by ghost.  Uncles drive off cliff, possibly deliberately.  The elder Barlows crushed by a train in an avalanche.  Clara jumps from a chairlift.  Nora and Paul Goode are shot at two very different venues and Adam witness both.  Plus Vietnam and AIDS.  Irving is certainly creatives in how he kills his characters.

Although, honestly, I was glad to see Mr. Barlow and Ray commit suicide by six-pack and hypothermia.  I don’t think I could have witnessed Ray’s death by cancer.  Hell no.

Christine: It was very reminiscent of poor Owen Meany’s mom…

I agree, and it would have been so out of character for her to just succumb. There really was so much loss in the book, which for Adam as a writer gave him a lot of material, but to look at it spelled out like that it’s really sad, too. This isn’t a sad story, though, with a lot of grieving. What do you make of Irving’s intent there? 

Julz: I think Irving’s presentation of loss is to demonstrate that at some point in everyone’s life, it’s going to happen.  You will lose the people you love in some way or another and life goes on for the living.  Shit, look at the year I’ve had.

Why is Irving so obsessed with small men?  The way he gushes over Mr. Barlow, he would adore my husband!

Christine: Ha! Again, Owen Meany vibes! (Julz: Totally!)  I googled Irving’s height and he was 5’8”, so maybe it comes from some personal insecurities? Not that that is that short, but maybe it felt that way growing up? 

Julz: What did you think of the screenplay as narrative device?  I found it distracting at first, especially with all the ghosts in scenes.  I did get used to it after a while, and though it made for quicker reading, I was relieved when it switched back.

Christine: This was definitely something I wanted to talk about, and I felt the same way. I know Irving has written screenplays, so this wasn’t coming from somewhere completely random, but I connect with his prose so much more. I feel that way about literature as a whole, though, I much rather read a novel than a play!

Confession: I really didn’t love the ghost angle, minus his grandfather’s. I was glad that it didn’t take over the text. It wasn’t done poorly or anything, just personal preference 

Names were so important! Adam, Grace,  Rachel being shortened to Ray, Em’s name also being shortened by Nora, the plentiful descriptors for Mr. Barlow, etc.. Obviously this isn’t anything new, but I enjoyed deciphering the meanings. 

Julz: Yeah, I prefer prose any day. I could have done without the ghost angle, too, except (besides the diaper man) maybe Paul Goode’s mom at  the hotel.  And yes, I’m glad you mentioned the descriptors!  The snowshoer, the night groomer, etc.  Those were endearing.

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