Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Review: The World According to Garp

I'm not a heavy fiction reader. In fact, my requirements for a good fiction are generally high and typically, I bore quickly from a fictional read that doesn't catch my attention right away. This was my initial thought about The World According to Garp. I received the book (along with others) from ADW 5 years back when we first met. I suspect it was his way of trying to impress me with his bookworminess; frankly, he had a better chance of wooing me just by donning his glasses. The pile of books sat on my desk until I decided that I need to read more.

I didn't know what to expect from The World According to Garp; the cover gives nothing away and I've never heard of the author, John Irving. Wikipedia summarizes the major themes: death, gender roles, and sexuality. I was skeptical considering the dark subjects it focuses upon and wonder what Mr. Irving would do, to draw his reader in. The Wiki article goes on, to mention that this book is Mr. Irving's best selling title: I decided it was worthy of a chance.

Like much of our media now, there is a lot of sex in The World According to Garp; used as both a noun and a verb. The act of sex, getting it, wanting it, forcing it and the implications or expectations associated with being a specific sex. You could say that Irving sold the book like most marketers do now... with sex; a whole lot of it. But, he doesn't glamorize it like those CK billboards. He makes no attempts to hide anything about the "real deal". The implications of the act of sex as well as what it means to be associated with a specific sex. Irving really messes with the reader's socially conditioned version of sex as both a verb and noun. We're made to feel uncomfortable and out of our natural comfort zone of understanding and what's "normal".

Complimenting this theme of sex, he displays the dualities in virtually everything. Where there is life, there is a moment where death becomes the dominant leader. Or where there is bliss, there is great sorrow and sadness to contrast. The reader is never allowed the opportunity to just be happy for Garp and his family/friends. There is always momentary happiness which is usually followed by a great deal of sadness. But, isn't that the way life sort of is? I found the book's subjects to be very real. Surprisingly, several of the people in my life have read the book and have generally provided a somber or dire perspective on the plot. They have even gone as far as to tell me that the book is "heavy" and "they wouldn't read it again".

Although the story is thoroughly speckled with unusual (and uncomfortable) situations and characters that the average reader might consider to be too crude or even offensive, the reader is always reminded that the world isn't a pretty place and that the theme of sex seems to seep into everything somehow. I find myself not the least bit offended by Garp's actions as I keep a similar realistic (?) view on the world and its people. None of the bizarre cirucmstances seem too far fetched in my mind. So when I finished reading The World According to Garp, I was neither strongly opposed to the subjects he talks about or the characters Irving creates. I felt like Irving represented people with  experiences of disappointment, sadness, disappointment, anger/rage, jealousy, joy, desire, anxiety and happiness. I'd say he got well into the minds of people in general and just decided to make up an interesting story to "put it out there", if you will.

I know Irving has written some other books--not only this one has been adapted to the silver screen--and they all seem to address unconventional themes and issues; so certainly a "heavy read", but one that is real enough to keep us grounded in the reality of the world and its people.


  1. Didn't you also share a bunch of books with me too....? hmmmmm??

    Interesting review since I can't really remember how the book goes. I do remember that Irving includes a lot of situations and settings that are unconventional, but nevertheless very real. I remember appreciating that about the book and thinking it was also a humourous book, but not in a ha-ha kind of way.

    I want to re-read the book again now, but with a different perspective, more than 15 years later.

    1. well yea.. i guess i did. but you lost one of them. it was my favourite author too! i can't wait to get my book list together because i'm actually super excited about that!! can you tell? :D

      i think irving highlights, through garp, that perspective is key. what might seem funny to an outsider is usually NOT funny to the person who is experiencing the issue... like the time garp went to mrs ralph's home to retrieve his son duncan. or when he pantsed the old man in the park.

      i think you'll have a different apprciation for it. it's like many movies that are made for a wide range of audiences where kids would get the blatant stuff but the subtilities are usually something that the adults get.

      have fun! it's on your coffee table.

  2. Holy bananas this was a great review! I loved how you just dove right in to the themes (no matter how dark) and were totally honest about what you thought of them (and the book as a whole). I am so looking forward to hearing about what's next on your reading list Deb!

    1. thanks! i had a hard time writing this one... well, more so than the one for big short. this was tough b/c i didn't know what to write about!

      but, i've started on a new book this morning and i think it's another fiction that will take persistence to keep me interested in the beginning. it's by a portugeuse author and the subject is also speaking to human nature. i hope to be able to insert some silly titles in there that are just for fun... like austenland! which i bought, btw. i am excited to get to it b/c the "heavy" books are really bringing me down here! sometimes one just wants to get away from the reality of life and do something totally fantastical and rose coloured ;)