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.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

I finally finished John Irving's The Last Chairlift- Julz and I have a post coming in the near future for inquiring minds. I enjoyed it, but at nearly 900 pages it was a tad long. 

Today is my birthday and I got lots of new books from my husband. Our birthday/Christmas strategy is very simple- set limits and exchange wish lists. It works!

Part of me is getting a little concerned about my Goodreads goals for the year, and part of me knows I always pull it off and will be totally fine. Please note that no part of me whatsoever thinks this whole goal is contrived and unimportant. 

The last week has been A LOT, some in good ways and some not. Sawyer got a cold that turned into something more, which antibiotics helped with quickly, but then in turn bothered his stomach. I got in a car accident on Friday (a lady turned left in front of me when we both had just normal green lights... everyone is fine, but my car will be in the shop for a whilllllle... the whole thing has been pretty stressful). My mom was down for a few days and now my sister and her husband are with us through the holiday (these are good things). Scott came back from almost two weeks out of the country and I've been trying to catch up with work so I can go into the last few weeks in a good spot. 

Since my life isn't hectic enough, I decided to train for a half-marathon in February. It's one I've done six or so times before and I'm in good cardiovascular health, but I just forgot how much time the training schedule requires, especially since I am very slow. I needed a goal, though, a reason to push myself. So, here we are. 

Mysterious plastic babies started showing up in my classroom, the ones that are baked in to cakes for The Epiphany. Now it's become this huge running jokes and I have taken a little container of them home for my house for Thanksgiving break, since my students agree they needed constant protection. Let's just say since I started making them the stars of my Insastories I've gotten a lot of new followers (my teacher account)... apparently they'd rather see them then get book recs? As if. 

Yellowstone  is back! If they just focused on Beth and Rip 90% of each episode that would be fine.

I am not into decorating for Christmas on the outside of my house, but let's just say I've added another tree to my indoors, bringing out total to three (plus a big one in my classroom, so I guess I own four!).

The one in my classroom is for the extra credit literary ornament that my students are hopefully working on. It's one of my favorite classroom holiday traditions and I can't wait to see them! 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

It's pouring outside here in Southern California and in many other parts of the state (plus feet of snow in the mountains!)- we need it a million times over, but I must say I don't like it. I appreciate it, but I don't like it. I can't walk my dog, traffic is abysmal, and I walk around staring at my ceiling, since I just know it's going to start leaking (it's who I am).

It's Election Night and I'm avoiding the news. I know it's not going to be great and I rather get it all in one chunk tomorrow rather than lots of disappointing tidbits tonight. There are some local and state issues that I feel more optimistic about, at least.

My husband is away for nearly two weeks out of the country for work, so I'm holding down the fort with a loud, chatty eight-year-old. Thoughts and prayers, please.

Coincidentally, the day my husband left to fly halfway across the world, is also out anniversary (we went out over the weekend, so it's all good). Marriage is really, really hard- not the part about being monogamous, the part about two different people with two very different personalities living in one space and making a life together. It's just tough, some years are very, very tough. Luckily, this year has been the easiest of them all- out of all fourteen of them! 

Last month Sawyer and I took a weekend trip to Sequoia National Park and it was such a great weekend away. We drove to Visalia Friday afternoon, stayed the night there, hiked all of Saturday in the forest, and drove back in time for his swim lessons on Sunday (it's about four hours without traffic). The drive from the park entrance to the biggest tree (by volume), General Sherman, was incredibly windy but kind of a fun drive.

I just finished Thomas Hardy's Woodlanders for a research project I'm doing with my students and while it isn't best, there was a certain college-nostalgia I had while reading it. I took a class on Hardy at UCLA and just the idea of knowing I was going to write a paper on the book while I read it took me wayyyyy back.

I'm listening to Matthew Perry's memoir and...damn. It's really good, but really heavy.

I'm looking forward to lots of family time this month! We actually hung out with some of my husband's family, who we haven't see in years, a few weeks ago and then my mom comes in little over a week, and then when she leaves my sister and her husband are coming. Maybe I'll squeeze in a visit with my grandpa, too, and a cousin and I are trying to calendar some time to get lunch. Tis the season! 

Celeste Ng Reading

One of the things I missed most about the pandemic was going to readings, so it has felt good to go to a few this year! Earlier in the year I saw David Sedaris and at the beginning of the fall Anthony Doerr, and then, most recently, Celest Ng. Some of the highlights:

- I went with one of my good friends, who I used to go with several times a year. This was our first since 2019, so it was good to be back in action 
- Ng was in conversation with the Gabrielle Zevin, the author of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which I absolutely loved. They're friends in real life, which made the conversation truly authentic! 
- The venue, Second Home, in Hollywood was super cool. It's a work space for freelancers and they had a beautiful courtyard, a bar, and a little library (and even a little resident dog that was mingling with the attendees) 
- The two authors talked about race in America, Ng's book, and her writing in general. It flew by and we wanted more! 

Ng is definitely at the place where I'll read anything she writes- Our Missing Hearts was just as solid as her other two. It broke my hearts many times over and made me a little fearful for out world, but the emotion she evokes is a testament to her writing skills (just make sure you're in the right headspace for it).