- March 27th, 2012
Reader may have noticed a motto depicted in the right upper corner of my LJ page: Keep Passing The Open Windows!
The motto has been taken from John Irving's novel "The Hotel New Hampshire".
Let me say some words about this book.
First off, it is a complex novel. It is full of charactares, events, changes, unexpected twists and turns. This book is not an easy reading. It takes time to think of its plot, the author's approach, about sequence and development of the story.
What immediately baffles an unsophisticated reader is that the first chapter of the novel is fully dedicated to a BEAR. Yes, he meant a bear, an animal. The bear served as attraction for tourists coming to a hotel located on the East Coast of the United States. The chapter is 65 or 70 pages long, and probably in the middle of reading it some readers have shut the book. However, it is worth to read on to understand why the author spent a chapter on an animal. In the same chapter we learn about the protagonists, where and how they met. And they met in the very hotel where the bear and his master, an Austrian named Freud, made their living by entertaining the hotel public.
The fact that Father of the family that the book describes served in the Army during WWII is not emphasized. There is quite a lot of material about the Father's father, who played an important role in upbringing children by giving them solid values. The father, dabbed Iowa Bob, was the character who best determined Father's state of mind: Father always lived in the future.
Having learned much of the hotel business and being a Harvard graduate, Father starts to realize his plan of converting a former girl's school into a hotel, the first Hotel New Hampshire. He would not manage the project without his wife's clever and prudent support. By the time the family started the adventure, they already had five children.
When the hotel was ready for guests, the entire family lived there too. And here is the first time where the author comes up with an important morale: as a bear cannot survive in a human society, a family cannot exist in a hotel.
The venture was quite queer in many respects, starting from the staff employed and ending with Iowa Bob's weight lifting practice, that invariably led to some barbells falling down. Three of the five kids reached their teen age, and each of them proved to be quite a complicated character.
In the first Hotel New Hampshire the children picked up that weird slogan that later has proved to be an important guideline for all of them: Keep Passing The Open Windows! This phrase was from a German language textbook. Mother and kids started to learn German upon receiving a letter from Vienna.
Father received subject letter from Freud. Freud wrote that he ran a hotel and that he wanted Father to assist him in making it better. Father accepted the offer, although Mother was not sure it must have been done.
On the transatlantic flight the family took different planes. Here reader witnesses the first tragedy afflicting the family. Mother and the youngest son, who flew a day later, never reached the European shores. The plane crashed into the sea not far from France.
Here is another interesting step the author takes. He does not concentrate much on the loss. And he does it purposefully, as a lot of new characters are to appear onstage.
Father meets Freud. Freud is blind as he was a victim of a Nazi death camp. The hotel he runs is shabby and well battered, and it hosts a strange clientele - radicals who prepared to blow out the Opera, and prostitutes. The family, now consisting of two boys and two girls, gets sandwiched between the radicals and the prostitutes. What is peculiar about the hotel is that it has a "smart bear" in the lobby. The bear is an American girl who wears a bear's costume and entertains guests and scares away naughty clients of the prostitutes.
From the first lines describing the hotel and its inhabitants, it is clear that it can hardly be improved. The name change was undertaken, the hotel became the second Hotel New Hampshire.
The real feat is that the family prevented the blast of the Opera concocted by the radicals. As a result, Father loses his eye sight.
The family stayed in Vienna for 7 years instead of two or three. Lilly, the youngest girl, discovered and developed a talent of writing. Her book was called "Trying to Grow". The name of the book came from the fact that Lilly was almost a dwarf, and she desperately wanted to grow. Her book, being sent to a New York publisher, was accepted. However, the fee offered was very small. Frank, the oldest, acted as a Lilly's agent and negotiated a better deal. In Vienna he majored in economics, while other kids - Franny, John and Lilly - majored in American literature.
The girl who played the bear was named Susie. As Franny, she was raped while being a teenager. After saving the Opera the family comes back to the US, and settles in New York. Unlike others, Lilly chooses to live in a hotel for all her short life.
Here we see another important human issue that the author speaks about. Do not overwhelm people, don't make them work faster and harder than they can. What they do under such a pressure is never as good as that created on inspiration. Frank pushed Lilly too hard to write more, and her second book was not a match to the first one. Lilly was squeezed and fully exhausted. She ended her life by throwing herself out the 14th floor of the hotel where she lived.
This has been another turning point for the family. Although Frank remained in New York, and Franny, after starring in the "Trying to Grow" movie, lived in Los Angeles, Farther wanted to return back to the very first hotel where he met his wife more than twenty years ago.
The hotel did not exist, except for some ruins reminding of what it used to be. However, the owner was alive, and for pennys he sold the ruins to Frank and John. The family did some work and turned the ruins into a kind of hotel. The third Hotel New Hampshire. Actually, the hotel existed in Father's imagination only. In fact, it was a house with some spare rooms. Very rarely guests visited this desolate place.
John and Susie started to live together. She abandoned Greenwich Village where she lived before moving to the third Hotel New Hampshire.
Susie and John turned the hotel into a rather prosperous rape crisis center.
John was 39 and Susie was over 40 when John spoke to her about having a child.
The child came from an unexpected end: Franny got pregnant and, being too busy with her film career, handed her child over to John and Susie.
This was the last morale the author tought us: having a baby is an ultimate happiness on Earth.