Thursday, January 20, 2011

Things I Like #2: The World According to Garp

The World According To Garp (1978), by John Irving, is not the favorite novel of anyone I know. But it is mine. (Disclaimer: I can’t actually limit myself to one “favorite novel” any more than I can limit myself to one favorite food. But, for the sake of choosing something I actually like about which I can talk, I choose this one.) Unlike most people, I read the book long before I saw the movie starring Robin Williams and Glenn Close.

It was a book about writers. T.S. Garp was an aspiring novelist and his mother, Jenny Fields, was a nurse who didn’t aspire to be one but became one anyway. In fact, her accidental career as a scribe far outpaced and outweighed that of her son, providing much of the humour and pathos in the novel.

There was the cast of characters—including a former football pro who becomes a transgendered houseguest and endearing friend, a professorial wife with a biting wit and a younger lover, a babysitting lover of Garp’s who bites off more than she should chew, a deranged girl from Garp’s childhood who haunts him all his life. There are tons of reasons I love this novel, despite the fact that most times I find John Irving’s ideas about literature insufferable. But he does write good stories. Sometimes they’re way over the top and ridiculously absurd, but they’re always funny and his characters are mostly endearing, despite their flaws.

I love that Garp goes running, as well as being a writer. I love that he chases down a speeding driver who endangers his children. I love that the characters are able to forgive each other almost anything, but even when they don’t forgive—or forgive easily—their reasons are completely understandable. I love the “Undertoad” and the tragedy it brings. I love the scene where he loses a chunk of his dignity in the driveway.

But most of all, I like the inimitable way that Irving’s story—like many of his novels—makes me smile, from beginning to end. Many of my favorite novels (more on those another time, I’m sure) are intellectual experiences, books that make me think, that cause me to see the world in a different way, that mess with ideas of linearity in time and narration. Irving’s novel does much of that, too, but mostly it just makes me smile because, you know, life is just so damn funny, even when it’s tragic, according to Garp.

The full trailer of the movie, The World According To Garp:

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