Oof. This is gonna be a tough one to review.
First, it should be known that I was not looking forward to this book. Nothing about it called to me. Nothing about the film adaptation ever made me want to watch the movie, either. (Let it be known that I still have no interest in watching the movie.) And if it weren't for this John Irving Challenge I'm doing, where I'm trying to read all of his novels in a year's time, I likely never would have picked this up. Do I regret reading it? Yes and no. Let's discuss, shall we?
I hated the first chapter and a half of The Cider House Rules. I've come to expect that I'm gonna be pretty confused for the first fifty to a hundred pages of an Irving novel. Usually the stuff at the beginning doesn't pay off until halfway through the book, and sometimes he makes you wait until the very end before he returns to why the opening chapter was needed. Here, I never felt like that opening chapter was needed, not to mention the chapter is just fuckin boring to read. We could've easily opened with Chapter Two (Larch's history) and then summarized the info from Chapter One into the beginning of Chapter Three. That's how I would've done it, anyway.
I only really liked one of the characters, and it wasn't until Homer started learning from Larch that I really started to care for her. I never once cared about Homer, period. For a main character, dude was surprisingly weak. And him constantly answering everything with "Right" got on my nerves as much as it got on Wally's nerves. I was thrilled when Wally finally decked him in his cocksucker. Which brings me to Authorial Intent. Did Irving mean for Homer to be an annoyingly weak character? I believe he did. Doesn't mean I have to like it, though. It only means Irving possibly accomplished what he set out to do. Bravo, or, you know, whatever.
My favorite character throughout the entire mess was Melony. She rocked. I dig a multi-layered strongly-developed female character and Melony checked all of those boxes. Lorna and her love story was beautiful and heartbreaking, and I'm glad Irving took the time to follow Melony's storyline all the way to the end. I was worried that there for a moment the book would end on Homer, and I thought, "Fuck everything about this book." Then Irving brought it all home and I was graciously satisfied.
Oddly enough, despite the exclusion of wrestling and bears, this was Irving's most repetitive work. I've read about all of these characters before, some more than once, and I think that's why I didn't give a fuck for any of them. They all felt like carbon copies of better-drawn characters from earlier novels. Irving just changed their names and put them in a different story.
Some other aspects of Irving's work has become predictable, too; mainly who will live and die by the end of the book. He sets up character's deaths the same way each and every time, and the formula has become irritatingly obvious. A major character's death was ruined for me in this book because of Irving's signature phoning-in of plot points. This isn't a thriller, the book does not depend on surprises, but I'd still appreciate not being able to see certain things coming.
As with all of Irving's novels, this one relies heavily on a strong ending. The middle of the book is a padded mess, detailing long stretches of time I didn't give a single shit about. These lengthy chapters are further rendered pointless when, later in the book, Irving skips ahead in time fifteen years. If he could skip fifteen years of a child's life and still make us care for the kid, why couldn't he find a better way of telling of Wally's time in Burma succinctly? What a clusterfuck of odd details that chapter was. And if Irving's able to skip fifteen years in the life, why drone on and on about the day to day life of orchard workers when, by the end of the book, none of it really matters? Why? Because Irving cares about what Irving cares about. These are, first and foremost, his books, and he will write them how he sees fit. He also know that, (again) by the end of the book, you won't give a shit about the bloated middle. By the time you flip that final page, you will be basking in the glow of an ending so well told that you will let slide all the times you were bored, even if that time was less than a hundred pages ago. Yes, the ending is that strong. Irving's endings always are.
In summation: Nowhere near his best work, but much better than his debut novel, Setting Free the Bears. So far in my challenge, I've thought, "I will reread this book at some point in my life," but I will never reread this one. It was a chore just finishing it the first time. Recommended for Irving completionists and fans of apples and abortions.
Final Judgment: Show up for the coming-of-age aspects that Irving does so well, and stay for Melony and Lorna's story.
Book #4 in my John Irving Challenge, and the best one yet.
The idea that men and women are equal seems to me a basic truth. What sets us apart, medically, is our reproductive organs. Yes, you can have gender reassignment surgery, but a person born a man cannot carry a child conceived using one of that man's eggs because he doesn't produce eggs. Science has a long way to go on that advancement, if anyone is even working on it. Likewise, no person born a woman is out there fertilizing an egg with her semen, because she does not produce semen. So, when speaking about medical classification, our reproductive organs are the only things that separate us. You can joke and giggle and play the men-are-dumber card. I know I have, because there seems to be loads of evidence that we are, in fact, dumber, or, at the very least, slower to think and quicker to act, but there is no scientific proof that, say, a man's brain is smaller or less active than a woman's. (If you argue this in the comments make sure to back up your findings with cited proof. Thank you.) You can even say women are more emotional, which isn't a negative in my book, but that's not true either. Men are trained from a very early age not to have emotions, so we only seem heartless in comparison. "Stop crying! Be a man!" our fellow men bellow, and we salute our Generals in Masculinity with our throbbing erections and a call of "SIR! YES, SIR!" Okay, I'm done man-splaining. On with the review...
The World According to Garp deals with all of the above topics: feminism (which isn't militant man-hating, guys, it's the idea that both genders matter equally in society, so calm your man-tits), sexual identity, and masculinity. The book is surprisingly forward thinking in regards to the year in which it was published and the fact that it was written by a man. But of course I would think that. I'm a dude. I will only ever be a dude. Yet I have only ever read short-sighted or overtly-preachy diatribes from male authors on these topics. John Irving isn't sensitive in such a way as to come off as pandering. He truly seems to care and understand that everyone should be treated equally. Meaning, I do not believe he sat around after completing this book gloating over how progressive and clever he was in his writing of it.
The novel also deals with female rape from a man's point of view. Yes, men can be raped, too, but that's not what Irving is talking about. He discusses how men deal emotionally with the rape of a female loved one. Specifically how some men will go into hyperactive protection mode, which can be as emotionally harmful for their loved one as the rape itself. Male or female, you can never truly fathom emotionally the violation of rape unless you have been in that situation. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.
Furthermore, Garp touches on something I've believed for as long as I can remember: that rape is worse than murder. Kill someone and they are gone, they no longer exist anywhere but memory. Their life is over and only their loved ones are left behind to deal with the tragedy of loss. Someone who is murdered is no longer hurting; they cannot hurt as they no longer feel, emotionally or physically. But rape, if survived, leaves that individual to deal with the past on a daily basis. Every day can be a recurring nightmare. You relive the assault over and over and over, until you wish and beg and plead that your rapist had just fucking killed you. There are no murder victims sitting around praying to be raped to get away from their own minds.
In summation: This is a pitch-perfect book that deals with tough issues respectfully. Not necessarily sensitively, but respectfully. There is a difference. You might be triggered upon reading, but I'm betting you and Irving alike would appreciate your bravery for making it to the end. But what do I know? I'm just a dude. Read at your own risk.
Final Judgment: Powerful, engaging, thought-provoking, intelligent, and immensely entertaining to read.