Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: The World According to Garp

I tried to buy a copy of The World According to Garp on my Kindle, but apparently there's no Kindle version. As a result, I borrowed the dead-tree copy from the library. Now that I've read the book, maybe it's a deliberate decision by John Irving, as the novel is set in a world pre-1970s. That meant that there were no car-seats, no internet, and certainly no Kindles.

My first exposure to the novel is from "watching" the movie at the student lounge in my dorm at Cal. I put "watch" in quote because I think I was either doing problem sets or grading homework, so I wasn't paying much attention, and only raised my head when someone made a comment about the movie. Nevertheless, it made somewhat of an impression, so 16 years later I decided to go to the source and see what the hype was all about.

The movie was supposed to be funny, as was the book. It's not funny in the Douglas Adams/British-style, but in the Garrison Keillor style: kinda dead-pan, and deliberate in its humor. Certainly, some of the situations are hilarious, and the setups are long in coming and thus funnier when they do come. The themes, events, and reflection of both the times and feminism work well, but only in the context of the time of the novel. (The pivotal event in the novel, for instance, could never have happened once car-seats were mandatory) That's a reflection of how much safer the world has gotten, but also a reminder of how violent the USA was in the 1960s, when people of political significance were getting murdered and assassinated everywhere.

Did I enjoy the book? Somewhat. In many places, it greatly reflects the life of a writer. In other places, it feels as fantastical as any book marketed as "magical realism." Would I recommend you read it? Maybe. You have to like the Garrison Keillor type voice (I don't, not unless your name is Larry Hosken). You have a strong sense of the absurd (which I do, which is why I did find some of the situations funny). You have to enjoy "literary fiction" as a genre (I don't). So for me, the book was mixed, but maybe you'll like it if your response to the previous 3 statements was positive. Otherwise, you might be better off watching the movie instead.

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