This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields — a feminist leader ahead of her times. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes — even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with "lunacy and... read more
The story deals with the life of T. S. Garp. His mother, Jenny Fields, is a strong-willed nurse who wants a child but not a husband. She encounters a dying ball turret gunner known only as Technical Sergeant Garp who was severely brain damaged in combat. Jenny nurses Garp, observing his... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
The story deals with the life of T. S. Garp. His mother, Jenny Fields, is a strong-willed nurse who wants a child but not a husband. She encounters a dying ball turret gunner known only as Technical Sergeant Garp who was severely brain damaged in combat. Jenny nurses Garp, observing his infantile state and almost perpetual autonomic sexual arousal. As a matter of practicality and kindness in making his passing as comfortable as possible and reducing his agitation she manually gratifies him several times. Unconstrained by convention and driven by practicality and her desire for a child, Jenny uses Garp's sexual response to impregnate herself, and names the resultant son after him "T. S." (standing only for "Technical Sergeant"). Jenny raises young Garp alone, taking a position at an all-boys school.
Garp grows up, becoming interested in sex, wrestling, and writing fiction—three topics his mother has little interest in. He launches his writing career, courts and marries the wrestling coach's daughter, and fathers three children. Meanwhile, his mother suddenly becomes a feminist icon after publishing a best-selling autobiography called A Sexual Suspect (referring to the general assessment of her as a woman who does not care to bind herself to a man, and who chooses to raise a child on her own).
Garp becomes a devoted parent, wrestling with anxiety for the safety of his children and a desire to keep them safe from the dangers of the world. He and his family inevitably experience dark and violent events through which the characters change and grow. Garp learns (often painfully) from the women in his life (including transsexual ex-football player Roberta Muldoon) struggling to become more tolerant in the face of intolerance. The story is decidedly rich with (in the words of the fictional Garp's teacher) "lunacy and sorrow", and the sometimes ridiculous chains of events the characters experience still resonate with painful truth.
The novel contains several framed narratives: Garp's first novella, The Pension Grillparzer; a short story; and a portion of one of his novels, The World According to Bensenhaver. As well, the book contains some motifs that appear in almost all John Irving novels: bears, wrestling, Vienna, New England, people who are uninterested in having sex, and a complex Dickensian plot that spans the protagonist's whole life. Adultery (another common Irving motif) also plays a large part, culminating in one of the novel's most harrowing and memorable scenes. There is also a tincture of another familiar Irving trope, castration anxiety, most obvious in the lamentable fate of Michael Milton.
“Crazy people made Garp crazy. It was as if he personally resented them giving in to madness - in part, because he so frequently labored to behave sanely. When some people gave up the labor of sanity, or failed at it, he suspected them of not trying hard enough.”
1. Boston Mercy
2. Blood and Blue
3. What He Wanted to Be When He Grew Up
5. In the City Where Marcus Aurelius Died
6. The Pension Grillparzer
7. More Lust
8. Second Children, Second Novels, Second Love
9. The Eternal Husband
10. The Dog in the Alley, The Child in the Sky
11. Mrs. Ralph
12. It Happens to Helen
13. Walt Catches Cold
14. The World According to Marcus Aurelius
15. The World According to Bensenhaver
16. The First Assassin
17. The First Feminist Funeral, and Other Funerals
18. Habits of the Under Toad
19. Life After Garp
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