“According to his mother, Jack Burns was an actor before he was an actor, but Jack’s most vivid memories of childhood were those moments when he felt compelled to hold his mother’s hand. He wasn’t acting then.”
So begins John Irving’s eleventh novel, Until I Find You, the story of the actor Jack Burns. His mother, Alice, is a Toronto tattoo artist. When Jack is four, he travels with Alice to several Baltic and North Sea ports; they are trying to find Jack’s missing father, William, a church organist who is addicted to being tattooed. But Alice is a mystery, and William can’t be found. Even Jack’s memories are subject to doubt.
Jack Burns is educated at schools in Canada and New England, but he is shaped by his relationships with older women. Mr. Irving renders Jack’s life as an actor in Hollywood with the same richness of detail and range of emotions he uses to describe the tattoo parlors in those Baltic and North Sea ports and the reverberating music Jack heard as a child in European churches.
The author’s tone—indeed, the narrative voice of this novel—is melancholic. (“In this way, in increments both measurable and not, our childhood is stolen from us—not always in one momentous event but often in a series of small robberies, which add up to the same loss.”) Until I Find You is suffused with overwhelming sadness and deception; it is also a robust and comic novel, certain to be compared to Mr. Irving’s most ambitious and moving work.