This is the 10th book I’ve read from my list. Only 90 to go…
The World According to Garp by John Irving (1978) takes us through the life of T.S. Garp from pre-conception (the tale begins with his mother’s story) to after his death–revealing that he dies doesn’t ruin the story, you pretty much know it from the get-go. Jenny, his mother, was a strong-willed nurse, who wanted a child but not a husband. Once Garp was an adult, she authored A Sexual Subject, in which she denounced lust and the need to live with a man; she instantly won considerable klout in the feminist movement.
T.S. Garp, the only child of the influential feminist icon, is a writer; he marries his first and only love Helen Holm, who teaches at a university. His first story (which you read in the novel) is wonderfully imaginative, absurd, and sad. Though he has so much promise to be a great name in literature, Garp slowly gets bogged down with everyday life. His novels begin to reflect his personal experiences rather than being purely imaginative and they suffer from it. Helen, his most revered critic, refuses to read the novel that wins him both fame and infamy, because it hits too close to home. Garp and Helen have a singular relationship that is tested throughout the book by lovers, children, death, and Garp’s writing/not writing.
Sexuality is a raging presence in the novel. From Jenny’s lack of sexual desire, to Garp’s insatiable lust the reader is often thrown from side to opposing side. Rape, transgender, sex changes, lesbianism, affairs, and marital relations all play large roles in the novel and in Garp’s life as he tries to figure out where he stands. Quick to anger but charmingly quirky, Garp’s character is one that you can’t help but love and empathize with despite his faults (and there are many!).
This story reveals character flaws sympathetically and hilariously. More than once I laughed out loud at the absurd and/or embarrassing situations! I felt very god-like while reading, because the narrator reveals so much about the ultimate end of the characters–there is even an epilogue!
The novel also spans over 30 years, so I think I can say “it was pretty epic.”