BOOKS: Circus Maximalist

No one expects John Irving to write spare, minimalist novels, but his latest takes manic, manipulative narration too far

Ever since the roaring critical and commercial success of The World According to Garp (1978), the arrival of a new John Irving novel has been an occasion for intense interest and sometimes febrile arguments. Irving fans applaud his jam-packed plots, his innocent heroes (the line from Garp to Gump is not hard to draw) and his overt, Dickensian sympathy for damaged or endangered children. Critics retort that Irving's heart may be in the right place, but his head is not -- that he actually exploits for shock value the very characters whose welfare he pretends to champion.

Irving's eighth novel, A...

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