Budding Writer, 1979: The World According to …

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It should come as no surprise that I listened to the quiet voice inside after all, although my journal from this date in 1979 seems to cram that in as an afterthought:

I’m probably going to ding the deanery and continue trying to find writing/editorial work.

Journal, Volume II
24 March 1979

And so Saturday, March 24, 1979, was down time for me and an opportunity to catch up on my reading and story ideas:

A good day for reading and plotting. The reading: 200+ pages of The World According to Garp, a fascinating and delightful John Irving novel. The plotting: what will probably be my next story, a variation on the Tex “Strangelove” story. The rest of the day was unremarkable…

Cover of John Irving’s The World According to Garp, via Goodreads. The critter on the cover is the “undertoad,” the personification of the fear of death that Garp’s son envisions from the undertow of the ocean.

If you’ve ever read Garp, you probably can understand why I found it fascinating. The main character is a writer and it’s the story of his life. But delightful? I probably hadn’t got past the novella Garp wrote in Vienna.

Even though I majored in English in college, I was never much of a literary critic. I was always far more interested in how things are expressed than in their deeper meanings. Once, in a senior seminar on Robert Frost, I was called on to analyze his poem “The Oven Bird.” Even the simplest analysis will say it’s about loss, or aging, or death. I said it was about a bird, as if Frost were setting Audubon to verse.

So you can see why I was fascinated and delighted to see a story about an emerging writer like myself. I was blind to any deeper meaning, even to realize that Garp’s Vienna novella was about … loss, aging, and death, like the Frost poem. Perhaps 24-year-old me was immune to these thoughts, although the fictional young Garp, about the same age, apparently was not.

The World According to Garp is about a writer the same way “The Oven Bird” is about a bird. The only memorable bird in Garp is a dead pigeon that falls from a rooftop gutter little Garp got stuck in.

And as for the meaning of the book, one need only look to the last line of the epilogue: “But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.”

I’ll have more about The World According to Garp in coming posts. Meanwhile, if you’ve read it I’d like to hear your reactions, whether you remember it from four decades ago or four days. I recently listened to it on audiobook, and my views have changed. Perhaps yours have, too.

2 thoughts on “Budding Writer, 1979: The World According to …

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