Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
It is a miracle of novel writing that, once a financially successful and comprehensive novel has been published, the novelist can come up with yet another. The critics are always ready to pounce, and the drain of ideas from the previous novel is bound to tell on the imagination of the next. Irving wrote The Hotel New Hampshire in a remarkably short time, given the notoriety of his previous hit and claims on his time from filmmakers and interviewers. Large in scope and covering two continents, it does not stint in imagination, but it does make use of the groundwork of the others. Here, the father does not die in conception but is the hero of the book. The mother dies in a plane crash, as does the youngest child (who has the symbolic name of Egg), and the entire novel moves in a different circle from The World According to Garp.
Eventually there is incest between a brother and sister (John and Franny), which is inaugurated, in a sense, by the previous gang rape of Franny, a violent event that John is helpless to prevent. There is also a sense of revenge, of justice done in the fictive world, or rather in the imagination of the author, that sets this book apart from Irving’s previous success.
The novel begins with a long remembrance, in which the father of the family, Win Berry, recalls how he met his wife and fathered five children. The couple met at a seaside resort, where among their adventures they meet a Viennese bear...
(The entire section is 1212 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The Hotel New Hampshire is narrated by John Berry, even though he and his brothers and sisters have not been born, not “even conceived,” when the story begins with the meeting of their parents. Consequently, the events in the first part of the book are retold by John from his parents’ accounts. In fact, John’s own account is more imaginative and titillating than the stories told by his idealistic father and more practical, even prosaic, mother. The events that led to his parents’ union shape their children’s lives and explain why and how they grow or fail to grow. Even though the novel is about three generations and spans some sixty years, it is a novel about the passage from childhood to adulthood; it does not extend into the children’s adult lives.
The title, The Hotel New Hampshire, provides structure for John Irving’s novel, since there are in fact three Hotel New Hampshires, each corresponding to a particular stage in the development of the Berry children. John’s parents meet at the Hotel Arbuthnot, what will become the third and most idealized Hotel New Hampshire. The Maine summer resort hotel where both work is also where they meet Freud (“our Freud,” not the “other Freud,” the psychiatrist) and his performing bear, State o’ Maine; where they encounter Arbuthnot, the hotel’s owner, whose appearance in a white dinner jacket serves as a premonition of death (he warns the couple that the world is not...
(The entire section is 793 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
It is 1939, and Win Berry has been accepted to Harvard University. He is now working at the Maine resort, Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, to earn money for school. He meets Mary Baker at the resort, and the two have an immediate attraction. They share the summer serving guests and dancing and befriending the eccentric Freud, an Austrian Jew hired as a fix-it man and an animal-act performer.
Freud’s feature act involves his pet bear, State o’ Maine, whom he renames Earl (for the sounds the bear makes when communicating). Earl rides sidecar to Freud’s 1937 Indian motorcycle, does a shtick whereby he purportedly drives the motorcycle, and has such a connection with the bike that he chases anyone driving it. When Freud becomes fed up with the hotel-performing life, he gives up Earl and the bike to Win and Mary and returns to his homeland in Vienna (even though he is Jewish, and the Nazis are gaining power in Europe).
Win and Earl do seasonal tours, making an income to get Win to Harvard and to support the newlywed couple and their children: Frank, Franny, and John. Two more children are born to the pair, and soon the family of seven is gathering frequently to hear the story of Win, Mary, and Earl’s early days.
In 1950, Win takes the family to visit Arbuthnot, only to find the resort closed, dilapidated, sun-bleached, and overgrown with wild grasses. While they are following father as he looks around, a boy hired to shoot the seals that...
(The entire section is 929 words.)