Picks and Pans Review: Until I Find You

updated 07/18/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/18/2005 01:00AM

By John Irving

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At 826 pages, Until I Find You is, Irving's longest book, and it's also the most intimate story he's ever told. It begins with an extended travelogue as 4-year-old Jack Burns makes a not-so-grand tour of European port towns with his tattoo-artist mother; the two are searching for the boy's runaway father, a Scottish organist. Together Jack and his mother, Alice, hang out with prostitutes in Amsterdam and visit church after church, hoping to pick up the trail, while Alice tattoos seemingly half of Northern Europe. They never catch sight of the elusive Scotsman, and Jack—who grows up to become a cross-dressing actor—twice returns to Europe to continue his quest.

Burns is clearly Irving's alter ego: Irving has revealed that, like his fictional character, he was abandoned by his biological father and sexually abused as a pre-adolescent by older women. And like Irving (who recently told The New York Times that his biological father suffered from bipolar disorder), Jack eventually discovers some hard truths about his dad. While this novel is overstuffed, it's at least two-thirds as creative as Irving's best books. And knowing that he's invested so much real-life drama into the story makes the bittersweet ending all the more moving.

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