A 1978 novel by John Irving, detailing the odd and curious life of T. S. Garp. It was later made into a movie, the screenplay adapted from the novel by Irving and screenwriter Steve Tesich. The cast featured Robin Williams as Garp, Glenn Close as his feminist mother, and John Lithgow as a football-player-cum-transsexual.
"...In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."
The World According to Garp begins, more or less, in the 1940s, with the early life of his mother, Jenny Fields, a nurse who resented her family's strict adherence to stereotypes of the time. Wishing to have a child but not to be tied down by marriage, she concocts a plan to impregnate herself, by way of Technical Sergeant Garp, a ball-turret gunner who was incorrigibly brain damaged by stray shrapnel, reverting his mental faculties to that of a small child. She names the child T. S. Garp, in memory of the late father, but asserted that the initials do not stand for anything. Constantly ostracized by her social peers for making the choices she did in life, she later ends up writing an autobiography, A Sexual Suspect, which propels her into fame as a feminist and overshadows her son's successes for the rest of his life.
And it was like this that T. S. Garp was born.
From his early school years at Steering School, to his awakening as a writer on an extended trip to Vienna, Garp acquires a knack for seeing the world a little differently, partly due to his mother's unconventional style of parenting, and partly because of the relative absurdity of his early life encounters. He manages to get stuck on a roof, catching pigeons with a lacrosse stick. He loses a part of his ear to the vicious-yet-stupid dog of an uptight family—whose daughter he was then courting—and then proceeds to pay it back in kind, some years later. He develops a tendency to never forget his rejections, and likes to write scathing and sardonic letters to express his opinions.
Throughout his life, Garp becomes an avid wrestler, grows to be an excellent (if slightly eccentric) writer, and encounters a hugely diverse cast of characters. He makes good decisions, and he makes bad decisions, and learns to deal with the consequences of both. He writes a handful of short stories and three-and-a-half novels, excerpts of which are featured in the book. He befriends a rogue's gallery of oddities—like Roberta Muldoon, the transsexual ex-football player, and Ellen James, the timid rape victim whose unfortunate loss of tongue sparked a society of radical feminists—and run-of-the-mill people—like Charlotte, the Viennese prostitute with whom he spends the majority of time discussing sexual favours rather then receiving them, and John Wolf, his shrewd editor and, through thick and thin, longtime friend—alike. The interconnectedness of the web of people in his life comes back to haunt him perpetually, up until his very death, and beyond. He gets into tangles with lovers, both his wife's and his own, and experiences both profound happiness and devastating loss.
In all, he lives an exceptional and exciting life, making the most of the hand he was dealt, and making a name for himself.
The temporal coherence is only vaguely present. You're not always told straight up when something happens, and details are often released in after-the-fact exposition, be it a patchy explanation of the events leading up to the moment, or a quick tangent on what was to happen later, simultaneously informing and enticing the reader. Recurring motifs and constant flashbacks tell the story of Garp in a much more interesting manner than a linear recount could, and the depressing frankness of some of the situations that Garp is exposed to propel the story forward much in the same way that life refuses to stop when it comes around.
The World According to Garp has been described as both funny and sad. But it is not funny; it is humorous. It is not sad; it is tragic. It is not the extensive biography of a young, accomplished, and acclaimed writer; it is an insight into the life and times of him and his contemporaries, a lens through which we come to understand who this person really was. What he enjoyed. What he feared. What he did with his time, and how he resented himself for not having used it better.
BONUS: How to SPOIL Garp for your pretentious literary friends (rot13'd for safety):
OR, I don't care to read this book because I'm a sleaze that refuses to read good literature
OR, Thirty-five years in print is long enough
- Rirelbar qvrf rkprcg Wraal Tnec, Juvgpbzo, Nyvpr, Uneevfba, Qhapna'f genaffrkhny jvsr, naq Zef. Enycu (lrf, rira Enycu)
- Uryra ovgrf bss Zvpunry Zvygba'f cravf
- Jnyg qvrf va gur pne penfu gung Tnec pnhfrf
- Qhapna ybfrf na rlr, naq gura yngre na nez, obgu va nhgbzbovyr nppvqragf va onq jrngure
- Wraal Svryqf vf fubg ol n gehpxre
- N Wnzrfvna gevrf gb eha bire Tnec jvgu n pne naq snvyf
- Reavr Ubyz unf n urneg nggnpx juvyr wnpxvat bss naq qvrf
- Tnec arire svavfurf nabgure abiry nsgre Orafraunire
- Cbbu orpbzrf na Ryyra Wnzrfvna naq fubbgf Tnec gb qrngu
- Uryra arire sbetvirf Wbua Jbys sbe Orafraunire'f pbire wnpxrg, naq gura Wbua yngre fzbxrf uvzfrys gb qrngu
- Uryra qvrf va ure fyrrc naq rirelobql jrrcf
- Eboregn oernxf ure arpx juvyr Ryyra Wnzrf jngpurf
- Gur Haqre Gbnq trgf Ryyra naq Qhapna vf qrinfgngrq
- Qhapna orpbzrf n cebyvsvp cnvagre naq gura pubxrf gb qrngu ba n pbpxgnvy byvir ng bar bs uvf jvsr'f cnegvrf
- Lbh jvyy arire trg gb ernq nal zber bs Orafraunire cnfg gur svefg puncgre, rire
- Tnec vf cebonoyl n pbaibyhgrq nyyrtbel sbe Puevfg
- Gur zbivr yrnirf Tnec'f qrngu nzovthbhf naq guhf ehvaf gur obbx
V'q gnc gung Wbua Yvgutbj fb uneq
Use this information with caution. You hold a dangerous weapon in your hands.