Obviously his first
I found it to be a tedious read. It screamed "this is my first novel" from start to finish. I am a huge John Irving fan, but this was a disappointment.
I didn't like this book. It was silly and juvenile in a bad way. I can tell it was his first book.
Stumbling Out the Gate
Talk about an inauspicious start!
John Irving's books come with some clearly recognizable traits. The oh-so-cute coincidences, the not-so-subtle personality quirks of the characters, give Irving's novels a distinctive flavor that readers either love or hate. Although there are differences of opinion as to whether such traits make for good books or merely for gimmicky ones, people usually agree that the writing itself has an easy flow to it. The eye slides over phrases and sentences without difficulty, allowing one to soak up the story without struggling with bad prose.
Reading SETTING FREE THE BEARS illuminates just how far Irving has come in this regard. The writing is as rough as sandpaper. Sentences, far from flowing smoothly, get bogged down in thorny verbiage, making the actual plot almost secondary to simply getting through the written page itself.
As for the plot, well, Irving has grown in more ways than one. When Graff, a young college student, meets up with Siggy, an idiosyncratic motorcyclist, they decide to `liberate' the animals at the Vienna zoo, as happened after World War II. The two go their separate ways, however, and we are thereupon `treated' to a pre-War history of Siggy's family. It is not very interesting. But then, not much about this book really is.
Irving has written some excellent books through the years. A Widow for One Year and A Prayer for Owen Meany (Ballantine Reader's Circle) are excellent, and even his second tier, such as A Son of the Circus (Ballantine Reader's Circle) and The Hotel New Hampshire (Ballantine Reader's Circle) range from not bad to pretty good. SETTING FREE THE BEARS, however, is really for only two audience. The first is die hard Irving fans. The second is literary scholars examining the evolution of a writer's style, providing a powerful example of going from the bad to the good.
Everytime I read a John Irving book I love this author a little bit more. Though there are better books that he has written it is still a wonderful story and worth the time to read.
A local boy, who went to school and returned as a teacher and book store part owner clued me into this book when I was in grade 10 (he was my Geography teacher, more was more interested in novels). I read it and along with Irving Stone's Passions of the Mind,(John Irving Stone I thought would be a heck of a writer)I flipped about Vienna.
Later on, reading a Nervous Splendor and finally visiting Vienna, I became convinced that re-incarnation may be somewhat factual, ....
or was it Setting Free the Bears?
A good story, well crafted by a young writer...