The World According to Garp
by John Irving
- Date finished: Feb. 19
- Genre: Fiction
- Year: 1978
- Project: n/a
- Reading List: Winter 2012-13
- Grade: B
- Thoughts upon finishing:
You know, I liked The World According to Garp. I really did. However, I think I might have liked it better if I could figure out what it was about.
I mean, I “know” what it’s supposed to be about: according to the unsatisfying Wikipedia entry (which I sometimes peruse after reading books), The World According to Garp is about death, gender roles and sexuality. And yes, that is what John Irving writes about as he chronicles the very strange, off-kilter, somewhat neurotic life of T.S. Garp. Garp likes sex — he likes to talk about sex, think about sex, write about sex. Garp’s best friend is a former NFL tight end and a transvestite. And Irving ends the book by explaining how everyone dies.
So yeah, I get the themes. But that’s not why I liked The World According to Garp. And it’s not why I think this book will stick with me for quite awhile. No, I think what I’ll remember most about The World According to Garp is how weird and yet completely normal this book is. It’s as if everyone is both insane and sane at the same time. In this book, John Irving describes the life of one man. He is born, raised by a single mother, becomes a writer, marries his first love, has some kids and some professional success, experiences personal tragedy, and he dies.
It sounds completely normal until you read details like: Jenny Fields (Garp’s mother) impregnates herself by, um, taking advantage of a semi-comotose gunner she’s nursing during WWII. That being Garp’s first “appearance” pretty much sets the stage for everything else that happens in his life. He dies (spoiler alert!) after he’s shot by a woman who cut out her own tongue.
It’s details like these — not to mention Garp’s stories, oh his crazy stories! — that really make this book memorable. Irving is nothing but creative. And yet at the same time, he’s sensitive and…realistic? Garp and his family deal with several heartbreaking tragedies (I even teared up a bit), but reading how Garp reacts, I saw how I — or any other “real” person — might react as well. Because I guess, everyone’s life is strange but we’re not caricatures. We’re just human.
So, I guess that’s what I’ll take away from The World According to Garp. Maybe it’s not what scholars or Irving intended, but it’s how this book will stick with me. It’s a longer book than I expected — you need a little time to read this one. But still, I was hooked. Now, to completely banish the memory of that terrible-looking film adaptation starring Robin Williams. Well, I don’t know if it’s terrible. But while this book was definitely funny, I never thought of it as Robin Williams/ha ha-funny. The movie reduces the crazy into slapstick, while I thought of what happens as funny, it’s a little bit more than that. A little more dark. A little more complex.