Review: The World According to Garp

I love when a John Irving book has an afterword. What he has to say never simplifies the text or tells you What You Should Know about the Book after reading it. Reading his real-world voice after reading one of his novels is like waking from fantasy to find you are sitting in the living room with your favorite uncle and, though the fire is burning down, the room is deliciously warm and the story will linger to tell you many things.

So it was at the end of The World According to Garp. An adult reader should know what a book is about after he or she has read it, Irving said. And then he remarked that his young son told him what Garp was about after he read it. And it was about that. And so much more.

I like to fall headlong into a novel and then ask myself what happened. The question, like the answers, is a continuous loop. And the answers are never complete.

Recently I wateched a TED video in which the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende recalled a Jewish proverb that said something along the lines of the only thing truer than the truth is the story.

Irving's novels are truer than the truth stories.

I love the New Englanders of Irving's stories for being the New Englanders of my world. Geography shapes sensibility, and sensibily shapes relationships. The rocks in our soil, the stubborn cold of our winters, the early dark of our autumns, the tender and wistful blossoming of our springs make us who we are. They are why we do what we do. There is a subtlety to this relationship between place and soul that Irving gets and gives life to in his art and that makes me smile and cry and hold on to every single page.

A good novelist lives thoroughly. A good novel is like a transfusion that fills you with the lifeblood of another character until your soul is in synch with his. You are changed, and it is good.


Reading The World According to Garp, I felt for Garp. Totally got it. And I adored his mother for her courage to make life happen without any undue sense of obligation or limitation. I want that courage. It's not easy, but it's very good.

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