Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving is for the dogs. It is about being bilingual, bicultural, binational, bisected, bedeviled. I remember fondly a day in my life as a teacher in NYC. Two students were conversating. One was speaking in Mandarin while the other was speaking in English. Well, that’s what this novel is like. Juan Diego lives in two places, his youth in Mexico and his middle age in Iowa. It makes us, the reader, have to really pay attention, because we are constantly shuffled between the two places and not surprisingly, they seem to join as one.
In Mexico, Juan Diego was a dump kid scavenging, who has the ability to read, which is his salvation as he becomes an adult who is a writer living in Iowa. Shuffling back and forth fills in gaps and entertains us with his sister, Lupe, Virgins, religion, angels, ghosts, prostitutes, a circus, and dogs, dogs everywhere and in everyone’s story. We are in Juan’s post Mexico life and he is a successful writer and we learn of his Mexico life in his dreams. So we aren’t always sure where we are at times as we, too, flow between now and then within Juan Diego’s dreams. It is as if everyone is a ghost since Juan Diego is in constant dream status unless he is actually in the real world for those conscious moments to help us catch up or take a break. Surreal is perhaps the best word to describe this wonderfully whimsical novel about death by a master of whimsy.