|Image Credit: Tia's Book Musings|
After reading The World According To Garp, that's precisely the feeling I am left with. A sense of loss. A loss of understanding perhaps? A loss of memories? A sense of the loss of time? How often I have wished to belong to that cult readers sect, and exclaim with wonderful abandon while daintily sipping cocktails : Oh! I know! Isn't Garp amaaaazing? His terminal view of the world is suuuuuuch a reflection on the world we live in. And then again, I know that I would never make it to that cocktail set, sure to be daintily kicked out held guilty for sarcastic abandon. But back to Garp. Who is Garp? Novelist, father, husband, lover and son. Who is Jenny Garp? Nurse. Mother. So-called feminist. Writer. Who is Helen? Professor. Wife. Lover. Mother. Daughter. Who is Roberta? Man. Football player. Woman. Friend. Even as I write these labels, I wonder at the human species' remarkable ability to stick labels. We are walking human malls, urging everyone to take a look at our price tag. "Hey, I - the lover - am on sale today! Going fast!" Or how about this? "Fresh young mother. Tender and nurturing. Limited stocks available." Jenny Garp, a woman who decides that she wants to be a mother without the unnecessary tag-along of husband, says early on:
"In this dirty minded world, you are either someone's wife or someone's whore. And if you're not either people think there is something wrong with you....but there is nothing wrong with me"
Irving's themes of sexuality, adultery, love, violence, death and writing are well known though I haven't read any of his other novels. In the afterword to Garp, Irving writes that while the book is also about writing - the novelist's difficulty in consuming imagination over memory, it is also a book about fears. A father's fears. The Under Toad - a vague ominous note of anxiety runs throughout Garp. And really, Garp himself although he is described later as a 'man of energy' is a man gripped by anxiety. Indeed, isn't this the Age of Anxiety? Humans devoured with fear, afraid to act, (Garp for all this faults is not a man of inaction), afraid to love, afraid to befriend, afraid to seek a limitless vision. Does Garp have a vision? I am not sure. He is moody, irascible - he is vulnerable and achingly possessive and anxious about those he loves. Those he likes are very few though. Ding dong, a bell is ringing in my head! Who does this sound like? Someone who blogs under the name of Soul Muser. Hmm...;-)
Some of the scenes in Garp are supposed to be bizarre. I wouldn't qualify ANY of them as bizarre. No. Not even the car accident. Humans behave in such ways that to call it bizarre would just a gentle burnishing of the truth. And the truth is we are bizarre. There were some wonderful lines in the book, one of which I think reflects perfectly well on the kind of friendships people feel obliged to maintain:
...and they all settled into being the kind of friends many old friends become : that is, they were friends when they heard from each other - or when occasionally, they got together. And when they were not in touch, they did not think of each other.
And I think Garp's curse here is so often my own:
It was Garp's curse to be unable to conceal his feelings from people, even from strangers; if he thought contemptuous thoughts about you, somehow you knew.
And I think no book lover would disagree with this gem from Garp:
To Garp, [TV's] glow looks like cancer, insidious and numbing, putting the world to sleep. Maybe television causes cancer, Garp thinks; but his real irritation is a writer’s irritation: he knows that wherever the TV glows, there sits someone who isn’t reading.
This is the last one from me, I promise!
They were involved in that awkward procedure of getting to unknow each other.
As you can see underneath the tragi-comic tone, there is a great deal of wisdom in Garp. I did not LOVE any of the characters, but I enjoyed reading about them in a clinical, detached way that perhaps Garp himself would have approved of. For really, we are all 'terminal cases.'
Verdict: A cult classic that deserves to be read. Whether it deserves to be loved is another matter.