☀ You can borrow and read The World According to Garp free below. ☀
T.S. Garp is conceived, by a nurse who wants a baby but not a man, in an unusual way. Years later, his mother, Jenny Fields, includes this information, along with stories of Garp’s adolescent sexual adventures and much else, in her (1100-page) autobiography, A Sexual Suspect, which makes her rich and famous, and a feminist icon, and brings Garp notoriety as he works to establish himself as a serious writer of novels.
Funny, even though some seriously bad things happen
The World According to Garp, by John Irving*, although shot through with tragedy, is often very funny. This excerpt is about Garp’s not terribly successful second novel, Second Wind of the Cuckold.
Though the novel was not about Helen and Garp and Harry and Alice, it was about four people whose finally unequal and sexually striving relationship is a bust.
Each person in the foursome is physically handicapped. One of the men is blind. The other man has a stutter of such monstrous proportions that his dialogue is infuriatingly difficult to read. Jenny blasted Garp for taking a cheap shot at poor departed Mr. Tinch, but writers, Garp sadly knew, were just observers — good and ruthless imitators of human behavior. Garp had meant no offense to Tinch; he was just using one of Tinch’s habits.
“I don’t know how you could have done such a thing to Alice,” Helen despaired.
Helen meant the handicaps, especially the women’s handicaps. One has muscle spasms in her right arm — her hand is always lashing out, striking wineglasses, flowerpots, children’s faces, once nearly emasculating her husband (accidentally) with a pruning hook. Only her lover, the other woman’s husband, is able to soothe this terrible, uncontrollable spasm — so that the woman is, for the first time in her life, the possessor of a flawless body, entirely intentional in its movement, truly ruled and contained by herself alone.
The other woman suffers unpredictable, unstoppable flatulence. The farter is married to the stutterer, the blind man is married to the dangerous right arm.
Nobody in the foursome, to Garp’s credit, is a writer. (“We should be grateful for small favors?” Helen asked.) One of the couples is childless, and wants to be. The other couple is trying to have a child; this woman conceives, but her elation is tempered by everyone’s anxiety concerning the identity of the natural father. Which one was it? The couples watch for telltale habits in the newborn child. Will it stutter, fart, lash out, or be blind?
It is fun and interesting to see how Garp writes his life experience into his work and, then, when it’s exhausted, goes out to live some more, so he’ll have more to write about. This novel shows how a real writer comes into being.
The novel has some parallels with Irving’s life — like Garp, he never knew his father. Since his mother refused to share any details of Irving’s conception, he threatened to make it up in a book, and in The World According to Garp, he does that with a vengeance. Also like Garp, Irving grew up at a boys’ prep school (Garp’s mother was the school nurse; Irving’s stepfather taught Russian), excelled at wrestling, and lived in Vienna as a young man.
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