(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 trainer named Freud, who has taught the bear to ride on a motorcycle. The father purchases the bear, and Freud returns to Vienna, just before World War II. The resort, called Arbuthnot-by-the-Sea, is idyllic in the father’s imagination, but when the family returns to it many years later, it has become run-down and ruined. The father’s dream must then be realized, and he turns a former school into the first Hotel New Hampshire. His scheme is financially unfeasible, but he tries it anyway, and the child narrator (whose name, John, and year of birth, 1942, make the connection with Irving more than gratuitous) grows up experiencing the variety of life that temporarily inhabits the place.

The entire novel takes place in a succession of hotels, first at the resort on the seaside, then in the converted schoolhouse in the small town where the Berry family live, then in Vienna, at the invitation of a former guest, the Viennese Sigmund Freud (the bear trainer, not the famous psychiatrist). Win Berry, a dreamer, is always enchanted by the possibilities of the hotels—they are to him an extension of the warmth and love of his immediate family. Freud’s trained bear is accidentally shot and is emotionally replaced by Sorrow, a black Labrador retriever who, even in death, is a symbol of the family’s ability to revive and survive.

The first Hotel New Hampshire, in an abandoned schoolhouse, is, in fact, a school for the growth and maturity of the family. The midgets who come as guests,...

(The entire section is 1212 words.)