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NEW YORK (Reuters) – John Irving says his new novel is a melancholy story of an actor whose mother is a tattoo artist from Edinburgh and whose father abandoned them as a child – a family story that has some echoes in his own life.
Irving never knew his own father, a pilot in Asia in World War II who divorced his mother when Irving was two.
The 63-year-old writer best known for “The World According to Garp” said he only recently realized he has been inventing his father throughout his life and work.
At a reading in New York this week of the early chapters of “Until I Find You,” due out in July, Irving said it had taken years and a lot of pain, both physical and mental, to get him to the point where he could address the issue.
The new book is the story of actor Jack Burns from his early years at a girl’s boarding school ? it is not clear why ? to his adventures in Hollywood. Jack’s mother is a tattoo artist who was abandoned by his father, an tattoo addict and organist she met in church.
“I recognized there were emotional and psychological similarities between myself and Jack Burns,” Irving said, explaining his initial decision to write the book as a first-person narrative. Just over a year ago, he handed in the completed work at a mammoth 345,000 words, only to realize it was “too dark” and didn’t work in the first person.
“I knew I had to rewrite almost every sentence of it,” he said, describing a year of working eight or nine hours a day, seven days a week, battling chronic tendinitis and other aches and pains as he worked in longhand and on an old typewriter.
“I tried taking some marvelous antidepressants but I couldn’t remember the names of the characters in my book,” he said at the Monday night book reading.
The final version is 30,000 words shorter, but still his longest novel.
Absent fathers haunt a number of Irving’s works.
In his most famous book, “The World According to Garp,” the hero’s mother is a nurse who used a brain-damaged and dying World War II airman to inseminate herself in a hospital bed.