The World According to Garp (Modern Library) Review

The World According to Garp (Modern Library)
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The World According to Garp (Modern Library) ReviewI first read THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP in 1982, the year the movie adaptation came out. I was a great fan of Robin Williams (MORK & MINDY still being on television at the time), and because I was far too young to view the film, I decided to read its source novel. Actually, I did an oral report on it, much to the chagrin of my 6th grade teacher. It's hard to do an oral report when the rest of the class is awestruck at the use of the word 'bastard'. I did very well, but the teacher did recommend that I stick to less challenging works, considering my age. Thankfully, I did not listen.
In the many times I have reread GARP since, I have never failed to be struck dumb by the sheer elegance and beauty, not to mention brutality, of John Irving's novel. While Irving's writing have too often been described as 'Dickensian', it is truly an accurate summation. Irving presents a family saga rife with bizarre yet realistic characters, all swirling around what very well may the finest character put to paper in the 20th century, T.S. Garp.
Garp is the bastard son (there's that word again) of Jenny Fields, a sometimes nurse and headmistress, who doesn't believe in anyone but herself, and her son. As Garp matures, finding success as an author, Jenny inadvertently eclipses his fame with her own autobiography, which catapults her to the forefront of the feminist movement.
I won't say more about the plot, because nothing else would suffice. To try and describe it any further might inadvertently gloss over the innumerable circumstances that make up Garp's life. Already, many single scenes come flooding back to memory: Garp, as a child, stranded precariously on the roof of a dormitory, trying to find a pigeon; Garp as a teen, experiencing his first sexual encounter, as well as a more fierce encounter with a large black dog named Bonkers; Garp (in arguably the most haunting moment) turning off his car's engine and quietly gliding up his driveway in the dark, as his son whispers, "It's like a dream!"
Irving's other characters run the gamut, from odorific professors to brain-dead war heroes. There's Roberta Muldoon, a former linebacker-turned-transexual; Ellen James, the tragic and unwanting figurehead of a truly weird cult; and Poo, the sister of one of Garp's first girlfriends. Irving weaves his characters and situations together in a breathtaking dance. And despite the dance's immense complexity, he never once loses his step.
Irving has also become famous (justifiably so) for a story Garp pens within the novel, THE PENSION GRILLPARZER. While this story is terrific, it has overshadowed the rest of Garp's work found within the pages of the novel. Irving performs a neat trick, in that Garp's style of writing, while similar to Irving's, is not exactly the same. Irving writes from Garp's viewpoint, ensuring that Garp has a voice of his own. While GRILLPARZER is famous, an excerpt from one of Garp's later novels is equally memorable. In the story, a young housewife is raped, while a police officer tracks the rapist down. While it feels like an Irving novel, it also doesn't; it is far nastier and more grotesque than anything else Irving has written. It is not Irving's story, it is Garp's, providing a telling glimpse into Garp's anguished soul.
GARP is a tragedy, with funny parts. It is a comedy, with heart-wrenching moments. It is riotously funny, and crushingly moving. It is a story of writers, and insanity, and adultry, and terminal cases. Like the best novels, it displays the entire life of an individual the reader would not otherwise get to know. It presents you with places you want to see, and people you wouldn't mind sharing a beer with. It is Irving's best work, and a landmark in American literature.The World According to Garp (Modern Library) Overview

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