ISSUE DATE: Aug. 31, 1981
The book, its title changed to The World According to Garp, did all that. In addition it managed to churn a few stomachs and raise some blood pressures. Not everyone who read Garp responded to the novel’s fun and games. Many readers were offended by Irving’s mating of the truly tragic and grotesquely comic, by the car crash that kills little Walt and removes Michael Milton’s penis, by Roberta Muldoon, the transsexual football player, and the Ellen Jamesians, the radical feminist group whose members cut out their tongues to protest rape. Among those with reservations was the author’s mother. Says Frances Irving: “There are parts of Garp that are too explicit for me.” Literary heroes like T.S. Garp and John Berry of Hotel New Hampshire challenge social dogmas and traditional sexual roles. Although they sleep with women and could flatten most opponents, Garp and Berry are mother-men. They nurture and protect an extended family of offspring with the tenacity of a she-bear.
Garp/Berry/Irving’s philosophy is basic stuff: one must live willfully, purposefully and watchfully. Accidents, bad luck, undertoads and open windows lurk everywhere—and the dog really bites. It is only a matter of time. Nobody gets out alive, yet few want to leave early. Irving’s popularity is not hard to understand. His world is really the world according to nearly everyone.
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