The movie version of the World According to Garp came out when I was in high school and I just couldn’t relate to the movie. I don’t think I even finished watching the whole movie. I got bored with it half way through.
Forward twenty something years later and I finally got around to reading the novel after my interest in John Irving was roused by Cider House Rules, another novel made into a movie. The World According to Garp was on the top of my summer reading list and was I glad it was on top. What an adventure it was! It was fascinating. I want to re-read it; I want to see the movie anew.
The World According to Garp is about Garp who is a writer. He is a brilliant story teller whose life revolves around his writing and vice versa. He was raised by a single mother, a nurse named Jennie Fields who, though not by design, overshadows his writing career when she publishes her memoir which becomes an instant success especially among feminists. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
The novel spans Garps life from conception to death in such great descriptive detail that the book was hard to put down. Every page, every chapter was a new story and there were stories within stories and novels within the novel. You’d think it would be hard to keep up with all the side plots and subplots, but it really wasn’t. It all eventually comes together no matter how convoluted it seems.
Garp wrote a story, and it is there in it’s entirety, “The Pension Grillparzer”, which includes a unicycle riding bear among its cast of quirky characters. Garp’s short story is like a peephole into the bigger world according to Garp. The novel too is full of quirky and memorable characters starting with Garp’s mother, Jennie, who wore her nurse’s uniform long after she stopped practicing as a nurse; Roberta, a transexual ex-football player who becomes best friend to Jennie and Garp; Ellen James and the Ellen Jamesians – Ellen James was a young girl who was raped and left for dead had her tongue cut out so she wouldn’t tell who her attacker was. The Ellen Jamesians are the feminists who cut their tongues off in protest and in support of victims like Ellen James. Then there’s Poo (you’ll have to read the book to find out why the moniker) and the whole twisted Percy clan who Garp grew up with. Then there is Garp himself, the quirkiest character of them all, stands in the middle of of everything like the eye of a storm, seemingly calm but couldn’t move one inch either way without causing a commotion.
If you haven’t read the book yet, I strongly recommend it. It makes you want to keep turning the page not in the same manner as a mystery or suspense novel, but in a strangely voyeuristic manner, almost in the same way you would crane to look at a car accident. You are appalled and yet you can’t turn away.