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"Garp was a natural storyteller," says the narrator of John Irving's incandescent novel, referring to the book's hero, the novelist Garp, who has much in common with Irving himself. "He could make things up one right after the other, and they seemed to fit."

Irving packs wild characters and weird events into his classic--officially recognized as such in a Modern Library edition with a new introduction by the author--while amazingly maintaining the rough feel of realism in every scene and the pulse of life in every heart. Many novelists of his time might have populated a novel with a novelist protagonist whose life and books comment on each other and the novel we're reading. Transsexual football players, ball turret gunners lobotomized in battle, multiple adultery, unicycling bears, mad feminists who amputate their tongues in sympathy with the celebrated victim of a horrifying rape--Irving made them all people. Even the bear is a fitting character.

In a crucial episode, Garp's wife's seduction of a young man coincidentally occurs at the moment when Garp is delighting their young sons with a reckless car trick (one of the few scenes beautifully, eerily, heartbreakingly captured in the film version as well). Many authors would have been content with the harsh comedy of the scene, but Irving respects its integrity, and he builds the rest of the book on the consequences of the event. How does he get away with his killer cocktail of slapstick and horror? Because it's simply what we all face daily, rearranged into soul-satisfying art. "Life is an X-rated soap opera," according to Garp, and who can contradict him?

Rereading Garp 20 years later, one is struck by how elegantly Irving structures his bizarre and complex story. Take the two most celebrated bits in the book, the Under Toad and Garp's story "The Pension Grillparzer," which shimmers like an exquisite Kafkaesque insect in the amber of the novel. When Garp warns his son about the "undertow" at the beach, the boy imagines a monster out of Beowulf who lurks beneath the waves to suck you under: the "Under Toad." It's funny at first, but we soon find that the Under Toad is a metaphor with teeth--he connects with a prophetic dream of death in "The Pension Grillparzer," set in Vienna. Garp's son's last words are, "It's like a dream!" And as Irving--who studied at the University of Vienna--can certainly tell you, the German word for "death" sounds precisely like the English word "toad."

All that death, and yet Garp is mainly exuberant. This story is, as Garp's stuttering writing teacher puts it, "rich with lu-lu-lunacy and sorrow." It enriches literature, and our lives. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Details

ISBN-10:  0525237704 (hbk.)
ISBN-13:  9780525237709 (hbk.)
Publisher:  Dutton Adult
Date Published:  April 24, 1978
Format:  1st ed.
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review by . July 12, 2010
John Irving is the rare breed of a writer who began with some pretty good success critically.  His earliest works such as Setting Free the Bears, The 158 Pound Marriage and The Water Method Man actually opened up to critical success.  All of those books didn't exactly sell very well, however.  Rather they were quite unknown.  In 1978, John Irving published The World According to Garp and the result was a runaway bestseller.  It was a book that was filled to the brim …
review by . May 24, 2010
John Irving is brilliant, and brings another wild cast of colorful characters to 'Garp'. T.S Garp (no, the "T.S." doesn't stand for anything) is the illegitimate son of a feminist nurse, Jenny,  whos views on men, sexuality, and especially lust are rather bleak, to say the least. The story chronicles their lives together, then moves on with Garp as he begins his own family. Jenny is ever-near,  and Garp's family goes well beyond the biological, eventually including …
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
There's a reason this book got Irving his fame. If you read nothing else by John Irving, make sure you get this one.
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
strange
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
I could read this book over and over.
review by . July 05, 2009
Hilarious and serious at the same time, "The Word According to Garp" is among my top 10 favorite books. John Irving began writing it in the wake of the radical feminism of the early 1970's. Recently, Irving concluded that the book is about "a father's fears" but also acknowledges, "it had seemed at one time, when I was beginning the novel, that the polarization of the sexes was a dominant theme; the story was about men and women growing farther and farther apart." …
review by . May 24, 2009
The first time I experienced "Garp" was as a teenager in my friend Steve's basement, some five years after the novel's 1978 publication. Steve was telling me about that part in the story when Garp hits a car that happens to be occupied by his wife and her student lover. Many details of his account can not be shared on this public forum. I was agog.    "And then what happened?" I asked. Steve didn't really recall, except something about women with their tongues cut out. It was …
review by . January 04, 2001
I just love Garp - he is one of my favourite literary characters. His life, which he yearns to be boring and normal, is a reader's delight, from his unorthodox conception to the trials and tribulations of his marriage.But this book is not just about Garp, it is about finding the unusual in every day things, about rejoicing in sadness and about making the best of what you have. It is a truly delightful book, and I rank it just as highly as I do Irving's other great masterpiece "A Prayer for Owen …
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