Sunday, October 3, 2010

The World According to Garp by John Irving — Oct1, 2010

The next session will be held on Nov 26, 2010, to read excerpts from the play, A Streetcar Named Desire (SND), by Tennessee Williams.

On Dec 2, 2010 (Thursday) a private viewing of the Marlon Brando - Vivien Leigh movie of SND will be screened at the Yacht Club at 6 pm.

The World According to Garp
The question of feminism and what it meant, gave rise to a steady stream of discussion, as that theme runs through the novel from beginning to end. Here are the 'feminists' in animated discussion —

Soma, Talitha, Amita, KumKum

Whether the quality of the writing elevates the novel to the first ranks of literature was another question that dogged the discussions. As happens in nearly all the sessions, lively arguments were put forward on several sides, but the readers were left to form their own judgments. John Irving's own opinion may be true, but it is probably tongue-in-cheek: "An artfully-disguised soap-opera."

Two visitors joined us for this session, Mr Thomas Manipadam and Mr Renjith Sanoo.

Soma, Talitha, Amita, KumKum, Manipadam, Bobby, Thommo, Sanoo

You may read a full account of this session by clicking here. Or by following the link below.

Kochi Reading Group session on Oct 1, 2010
The World According to Garp by John Irving

Attending: Talitha, KumKum, Amita, Joe, Thommo, Bobby, Soma;
Visitors: Thomas Manipadam, Renjith Sano
Absent: Indira (away to Chengannur), Minu (away to Coonoor), Priya, Zakia

The next session will be held on Nov 26, 2010, to read excerpts from the play, A Streetcar Named Desire (SND), by Tennessee Williams..
We are skipping the Poetry session, and postponing it to Jan 14, 2011 tentatively. Dec is too busy a month, by common agreement, for any readings to be scheduled.
On Dec 2, 2010 (Thursday) a private viewing of the Marlon Brando - Vivien Leigh movie of SND will be screened at the Yacht Club at 6 pm. Thommo has already booked the projection room. Renting the room for a private viewing will cost Rs 500/- to be paid to the CYC.
The formatted e-text of SND is being transmitted transmitted to everyone. Those who wish to get it from flipkart can order it for Rs 233/-:

Here is a collection of criticism on SND, edited by Harold Bloom, for Rs 99/-:

Indira and Bobby are the selectors for the next fiction reading some time in Feb 2011. Can they please announce their selection by Nov 1, say so that there is enough time to procure the novels and read it?

Soma led off the discussion. She saw the movie first on TV, and neither liked the movie, nor the name itself. Didn't understand it. She then saw it several times, and liked Robin Williams in the role of Garp, and after one more viewing she came to appreciate the funny way Garp looked at life. She was moved by Jenny Fields portrayal  as a feminist by Glen Close. The Ellen Jamesians made no impact.
Soma said she was very glad to have a daughter, not a son, being rather sceptical about sons. Talitha looked askance at this remark, since she has two sons, no daughters, and is quite happy as well. Soma expressed an animus against the general category of men (excluding diplomatically the the men ranged on the other side of the reading, all gentle folk she said, implying they were  honourable exceptions, to her mind. Well, present company is always excepted when general remarks are made, said Joe.
'I am a Thiruvadira', said Soma, using a Malayalam astrological terms for a a woman who is a born man-hater. However, all it says on this site:
is that “Ladies on this day worship Lord Shiva and pray for conjugal harmony and marital bliss.” Rather tame, what?  Soma maintained that her attitude stems from her stars, for she had a 'nice father and brother', and her husband is quite innocuous. Her attitude is “I want to be me.”
Why did you like Jenny Fields? – Joe asked. Soma replied it is because
1.              JF is a survivor of calamitous events.
2.              She would not be mastered by any man.
3.              Having no contact with men she produced a child.
4.              She refused to call herself a feminist.
5.              She did not stop being a woman (most feminists, over time, become less woman, more mannish).
Joe raised the question: what is a feminist? The discussion went in many directions, but the basic question of defining a feminist was not answered. Instead Soma read out what she considered some gems from the novel:
1.              “In this dirty-minded world, she thought, you are either somebody's wife or somebody's whore--or fast on your way to becoming one or the other. If you don't fit either category, then everyone tries to make you think there is something wrong with you.”
2.              “You know, everybody dies. My parents died. Your father died. Everybody dies. I'm going to die too. So will you. The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure having a life. “ (Joe checked; this is not in the novel; it is in the movie script)
3.              “the history of a city was like the history of a family--there is closeness, and even affection, but death eventually separates everyone from each other. It is only the vividness of memory that keeps the dead alive forever; a writer's job is to imagine everything so personally that the fiction is as vivid as our personal memories.”
4.              “Many couples live together and discover they're not in love; some couples never discover it.”
5.              “ I never knew what shits men were until I became a woman," Roberta said.
6.              “ In the life of a man," Marcus Aurelius wrote, "his time is but a moment, his being an incessant flux, his sense a dim rushlight, his body a prey of worms, his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, his fame doubtful. In short, all that is body is as coursing waters, all that is of the soul as dreams and vapors.” (Marcus Aurelius)
7.              "It is unfair to take advantage of anyone's emotional vulnerability.” (Jenny Fields)
8.              "Read the work. Forget the life." (Helen Holm to Garp's biographers).
It endears Garp to the readers that on the plane Garp acts to take care of Ellen James, even though he could not stand the Ellen Jamesians. He finds out she too did not take kindly to that sorority.

Talitha who chose the novel, was reading it for the second time. She mentioned that Indira's reaction when the novel was chosen was to pooh-pooh it as 'chick-lit. Although Indira was sorry not to be able to attend for she had re-read the novel too and was interested to contribute.
By the end of the book you have been through rape, mutilation, and tragic deaths and yet the reader is left with his sanity, said Talitha. It is the work of a sane mind in an insane world. There is humour too ( in contrast with Updike). And Amita found the sex scenes  more sanitised ('civilised' is what she said. A reviewer says it is a combination of lunacy and sorrow. Garp rebuilds his life. He is a survivor of tragedies (his son's death).

But is it literature, Bobby asked, with the obvious implication he found it wanting in some respect. In response Talitha took to reading a review from the New York Times in 1978 by Lehmann-Haupt:
“At the climax of John Irving's fourth novel, "The World According to Garp," a truly horrifying automobile accident occurs. Bones are broken, flesh is torn, eyes are put out, and appendages are severed. It is highly realistic, too, in order to explain exactly how it happens, one would have to sum up dozens of plot details, all the way down to why the knob on a Volvo's gear shift happens to be missing. “
“we find ourselves laughing throughout "The World According to Garp,"
“Garp writes to Mrs. Poole that "serious" and "funny" are simply different ways of seeing the same thing, and that "I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave--and nothing but laughter to console them with. Laughter is my religion, Mrs. Poole," even though "my laughter is pretty desperate."  (writing to a critical reader, Mrs Irene Poole who accuses Garp of making fun of troubled people)
“What Mr. Irving has done is to take such extremes and treat them as if they were domestic routines. As the novel concludes, ". . . in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."

Always begin with the last sentence of a novel and work backwards – that's how certain writers structure their novel. (Wish we could do that with our lives!). He claims in his Wiki entry (  ) :
"I spend about two to three months planning the path of the book in my head before I write the last sentence of the novel. From there I work back to the beginning. From the day I think of the last sentence to the book's publication date, not more than a semicolon has changed."
"When I finally write the first sentence, I want to know everything that happens, so that I am not inventing the story as I write it - rather, I am remembering a story that has already happened."
"I write repeatedly—against my will—of those things I fear most happening. Losing a loved one, losing a parent, losing a child. I'm in terror of losing a child. It's never happened to me, but I am clearly compelled to write about it over and over again, and in a way I think, psychologically at least, this says more about me autobiographically than ...”
“ … when I was denied information about someone as important as my actual father [army pilot who died in World War II crashing in Burma without seeing his son], I compensated for this loss by inventing him."  (Garp does the same in the novel)
Irving's own estimate of TWATG was expressed tongue-in-cheek: "An artfully-disguised soap opera."
There an official website for author John Irving:

Amita read two short passages from the book, one on Jenny Fields' opinion of her son's novel (“ could become tedious to women readers”), and the second on Walt's habit of bathing in the tub silently, giving his father anxious moments. Joe asked why read about such a minor character as Walt in this book? Talitha said, on the contrary, Walt is a very important character, because it is he who occasions Garp's major anxiety: the fear that bad things ('the Under Toad') would happen to his children, as it does indeed.
Is Irving a great writer, one again the question was asked by Bobby, who thinks not. He had a problem reading the book [I hope we will have problems with every book, since we are reading literature, and not mere page-turners]. It took Bobby a long time to read the book, getting up to p. 317 dutifully because it was the selected book. “most of the characters are crazy”, he said. Someone suggested that one has to tune in to their world. The craziness would be evident in the nature of themes that abound in Irving's books (see wiki entry) such as mutilation, transsexualism, rape, incest, etc. KumKum's slog to get through the first few hundred pages rewarded her later on. Jenny Fields was the only character she could not 'get'.
Bobby said he could not get a poetic lift at any point of the novel. This contrasted with Updike, say.  He could not relate to this story.

KumKum selected the passage where the rationale for Robert's sex-change operation to become Roberta is laid out. It interested her because she didn't know much about transsexualism, even though one of her close friend’s daughter had made the switch in the other direction. In the reading it becomes apparent that the sex-change is not frivolous at all and has a deep basis. Perhaps it is a passage from a more disordered state to a less disordered state in the individual.
Bobby took the example of Bobby Riggs who played Billie Jean King in tennis in 1973 and lost in straight sets. Although he put on the facade of a sexist male challenging the top w omen’s player to beat him, in the end he did more to ensure women players got the same deal as men in prizes at the grand slam events.
The novel is explicit and Garp is quite a character, odd surely and out of the ordinary. Helen is much more easy to take in. Garp was obsessed, even crazy, observed KumKum. Talitha retorted that Garp was a very typical man. He was intelligent and had his anxieties. Amita chimed in that Garp was a good husband, except for that matter of the foursome between Helen, TS , Harrison and Alice. Amita said he didn't fall in love with the babysitters, after all; yeah, right, he only laid them, said Joe.  Amita said Garp did not mind Helen and Harrison getting together, but he certainly drew the line at Helen making out with the Don Juan graduate student in her class, Michael Milton, the chap gave as reason for taking her course, “I wanted to be your lover.”
It's a very different book, said KumKum. Garp may be crazy, but then, “I call Joe crazy often.” What Garp wrote was way out, said Talitha. Talitha inquired rhetorically: “Isn't the book very poetic?  The dream in the short story, Pension Grillparzer, – isn't it beautifully written? But there came no resounding affirmatives. There is a story within the story, in a self-reflective fashion.

Joe decided for a change he would not tease out the romance from the sex scenes, taking the advice of Roberta who told Garp when he was invited to give readings in his post-success years: You have lots of other scenes to read besides sex."  The passage concerns the publisher's acid test for the commercial success of a manuscript: give it to the char-lady to read and if she says it's a go, then run with it. Thus it is that Jillsy Sloper determines the fortunes of the writer, Garp.
The question was again put to Soma, because she seemed to be the strongest advocate of feminism in the group: what is a feminist?  Soma answered as follows:--
                  In a traditional sense feminists are ladies who don't like men, particularly those who get upset when they are upstaged by women;
                  Feminists are women who get a raw deal in life from men, and then react to affirm themselves
                  Feminists are convinced that most men want to dominate their wives and won't give them free rein; and this is a common reason for divorce.
                  Feminists act to cure the financial dependence of women on men which keeps them chained in unsuitable marriages, even though they are oppressed;
                  Feminism is often seen as automatically anti-men; it is a polarisation that takes place; a skewing of relations with men, because the cards are stacked against women.
                  Feminists know how difficult it is to be a woman. Recall Roberta's cry of pain after being jilted by a man: "Oh, I never knew what shits men were until I became a woman,"
Bobby then inquired if feminism is basically a reaction?
One of the visitors stated his conviction that having a child without a father is a bit abnormal, and so is the mother's having no interest in a man.
Joe's Impressions of The World According to Garp
Garp is a novel about an author who is born to Jenny Fields, a nurse who wanted a baby without the attendant bother of maintaining a husband. She believed, and the novel illustrates this, that the “world is sick with lust,”  although Garp says of his mother Jenny, “She just didn't understand this fucking lust, lust, lust! at all.” Jenny was convinced that "Lust makes the best men behave out of character."
When Ernie Holm, the wrestling coach dies from over-excitement while gazing at some porn, the final verdict is given: Lust lays another good man low!The simple Saxon word lust occurs 34 times in the novel, but terms like desire, passion, concupiscence, prurience, lechery, licentiousness, lasciviousness, or even the simple word 'pleasure', are never used for the sex act. It's always 'lust.'
Jenny Fields had no libido (there are such women), and lust from the beginning is given its evil connotation of illicit covetousness of a woman's body., and it's always male lust. This wholesale disapproval of lust I think, ruins the few romantic scenes there are in the novel, and makes it from beginning to end a screed against men, first expressed by Jenny Fields the mother, and then taken up as a cause by Garp too. Feminism, always a difficult word to define, only finds this extreme form in the World According to Garp. Garp himself thinks it's nutty.
Not that Garp is free of lust. He freely admits to it but once he is married to Helen, there is little chance he will lose her, in spite of some foursome amours between the Fletchers  and the Garps (Helen, TS , Harrison and Alice), albeit with altruistic intent, and an occasional laying of baby-sitters.
Garp is quite a piece of characterisation. He's Mr Energy. The combination of wrestling, writing, cooking, athleticism, raw and trenchant expression, humour, cynicism, and seriousness about his craft, yields a wholly unique person. By the end of the novel when he has achieved substantially what he hoped for and is just undergoing a rebirth of his novelist's imagination, he is killed by of those extreme feminists who are caricatured and lampooned in the novel. We feel sorry as he goes down with the bullet from the wretched Pooh, and regret that an author of promise has been blanked out of the future, and all his planned novels extinguished.
Roberta is another of the unusual characters made up by John Irving. Full of life, full of loyal devotion, this transsexual woman (erstwhile No 90, tight end of the Philadelphia Eagles football team) is a kind of heroine, a counterpoint to Garp, and protector of Jenny Fields, Garp and Garp's family, even to the point of acting as a bodyguard. Her generous nature provides the one thoroughly loveable character in this novel.
One of the contrasts in this novel is between Helen, the tenured PhD professor of English, and the self-made author Garp, her husband. She knows she is no artist and cannot be an author of anything but pedantic stuff. Realising that and cherishing her husband's talents she acts as a goad to get him to write and climb out from the troughs of aridity that strike an author when he feels the well has run dry. Garp accurately characterises the three qualities of an author when he tells Helen about his adopted daughter Ellen James:
"She's the real thing," She's got the ability, but she's also got the passion. And I believe she'll have the stamina."
How important the last quality is we see in the short life of Garp. He would have said: quite a few have the ability (they can write), many even have the passion to write (they keep journals, they do sundry writing of letters, speeches, reportage, etc) but how many have the stamina to last the length of the slog required to write a good novel?
At one point when inspiration has left him Garp says of himself: “What he got was memory, and that made muck. He had no pure imagination anymore.” This point is made several times in the novel; namely, that remembered personal experiences count for little  in writing fiction; the imagination to invent is the supreme requirement. Einstein said much the same about science:"Imagination is more important that knowledge."
Garp first discovered he had imagination when he tried to imagine Helen Holm's body, it says in the novel somewhere. The book is full of epigrams. I found a score of them. Here's an enigmatic one I'll remember: Many couples live together and discover they're not in love; some couples never discover it.”

Bobby read from a reply of Garp to a reader who accuses him of making fun of people with troubles in his novel. Garp replies that laughter is the only response he has to the acute distress in people's lives, and quotes Walpole: “the world is comic to those who think and tragic to those who feel.“ Bobby who likes philosophy may have found this saying pithy.
Talitha said she finds the style of Irving 'true to life.' But Bobby maintained his poor opinion of Irving's writing: “it is white-trash lit”, evoking what Indira said originally to Talitha when the novel was selected, that it was 'chick-lit.' But Talitha stoutly defended Irving's reputation. Bobby said he was not denying that there is a big market for Irving's kind of writing.
Talitha suggested that Bobby was reacting to it because it was about a man whom he could not identify with. Women don't object to it.
“It's not that, it's because there is no poetry in the book!”, said Bobby. He further opined that Irving was a light-weight in the literary pantheon.
Talitha reiterated that she did find the Pension Grillparzer short story in places (such as, describing the horses of Charlemagne) quite moving, even poetic. “There is lots of sex in the novel,” she admitted, “but you don't feel icky.” Continuing, she said, it is a feature of Irving's style that there is no ornamentation, but the action races on and there's plenty of dialogue. But then one remembers the critic in Nabokov who banned from his bedside “novels consisting mainly of dialogue.”
KumKum who had a similar adverse reaction to the novel at the beginning, said she was glad in the end to have read it, and thanked Talitha and Amita for picking the book, for she would never have read it on her own. Thomas Manipadam, one of the visitors, said you need to read this book two or three times to start appreciating it.

The Readings

'Under Toad' became the code phrase for anxiety, invented by Walt, the younger son of Garp
Duncan began talking about Walt and the undertow--a famous family story. For as far back as Duncan could remember, the Garps had gone every summer to Dog's Head Harbor, New Hampshire, where the miles of beach in front of Jenny Fields' estate were ravaged by a fearful undertow. When Walt was old enough to venture near the water, Duncan said to him--as Helen and Garp had, for years, said to Duncan--"Watch out for the undertow." Walt retreated, respectfully. And for three summers Walt was warned about the undertow. Duncan recalled all the phrases.
              "The undertow is bad today."
              "The undertow is strong today."
              "The undertow is wicked today." Wicked was a big word in New Hampshire--not just for the undertow.
              And for years Walt watched out for it. From the first, when he asked what it could do to you, he had only been told that it could pull you out to sea. It could suck you under and drown you and drag you away.
              It was Walt's fourth summer at Dog's Head Harbor, Duncan remembered, when Garp and Helen and Duncan observed Walt watching the sea. He stood ankle-deep in the foam from the surf and peered into the waves, without taking a step, for the longest time. The family went down to the water's edge to have a word with him.
              "What are you doing, Walt?" Helen asked.
              "What are you looking for, dummy?" Duncan asked him.
              "I'm trying to see the Under Toad," Walt said.
              "The what?" said Garp.
              "The Under Toad," Walt said. "I'm trying to see it. How big is it?"
              And Garp and Helen and Duncan held their breath; they realized that all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad.
              Garp tried to imagine it with him. Would it ever surface? Did it ever float? Or was it always down under, slimy and bloated and ever-watchful for ankles its coated tongue could snare? The vile Under Toad.
              Between Helen and Garp, the Under Toad became their code phrase for anxiety. Long after the monster was clarified for Walt ("Undertow, dummy, not Under Toad!" Duncan had howled), Garp and Helen evoked the beast as a way of referring to their own sense of danger. When the traffic was heavy, when the road was icy--when depression had moved in overnight--they said to each other, "The Under Toad is strong today."
              "Remember," Duncan asked on the plane, "how Walt asked if it was green or brown?"
              Both Garp and Duncan laughed. But it was neither green nor brown, Garp thought. It was me. It was Helen. It was the color of bad weather. It was the size of an automobile.

(1) Jenny Fields delivers her opinion of Garp's successful novel
"My God," Garp said to Helen. "If we're going home, let's at least wait until after this mindless election."
              Thus he missed, thankfully, the "dissenting feminist opinion" of The World According to Bensenhaver, published in a giddy, popular magazine. The novel, the reviewer said, "steadfastly upholds the sexist notion that women are chiefly an assemblage of orifices and the acceptable prey of predatory males.... T.S. Garp continues the infuriating male mythology: the good man is the bodyguard of his family, the good woman never willingly lets another man enter her literal or figurative door."
              Even Jenny Fields was cajoled into "reviewing" her son's novel, and it is fortunate that Garp never saw this, either. Jenny said that although it was her son's best novel--because it was his most serious subject--it was a novel "marred by repeated male obsessions, which could become tedious to women readers." However, Jenny said, her son was a good writer who was still young and would only get better. "His heart," she added, "is in the right place."
(2) Walt bathes in the tub
They remembered, of course, the years Walt had washed himself within their hearing, how they would listen for any telltale slipping sounds, or for the most frightening sound of all--which was no sound. And then they'd call, "Walt?" And Walt would say, "What?" And they would say, "Okay, just checking!" To make sure that he hadn't slipped under and drowned.
              Walt liked to lie with his ears underwater, listening to his fingers climbing the walls of the tub, and often he wouldn't hear Garp or Helen calling him. He'd look up, surprised, to see their anxious faces suddenly above him, peering over the rim of the tub. "I'm all right," he'd say, sitting up.
              "Just answer, for God's sake, Walt," Garp would tell him. "When we call you, just answer us."
              "I didn't hear you," Walt said.
              "Then keep your head out of the water," Helen said. "But how can I wash my hair?" Walt asked.
              "That's a lousy way to wash your hair, Walt," Garp said. "Call me. I'll wash your hair."
              "Okay," said Walt. And when they left him alone, he'd put his head underwater again and listen to the world that way.

Roberta explains why she had a sex-change operation  - from Ch 14.  p. 382 top (585 Words)
To Garp, Roberta's subject was the ticklish detail of sex reassignment, because Garp seemed interested and Roberta knew that Garp probably liked hearing about a problem so thoroughly removed from his own.
              "I always knew I should have been a girl," she told Garp. "I dreamed about having love made to me, by a man, but in the dreams I was always a woman; I was never a man having love made to me by another man." There was more than a hint of distaste in Roberta's references to homosexuals, and Garp thought it strange that people in the process of making a decision that will plant them firmly in a minority, forever, are possibly less tolerant of other minorities than we might imagine. There was even a bitchiness about Roberta, when she complained of the other troubled women who came to get well at Dog's Head Harbor with Jenny Fields. "That damn lesbian crowd," Roberta said to Garp. "They're trying to make your mother into something she isn't."
              "I sometimes think that's what Mom is for," Garp teased Roberta. "She makes people happy by letting them think she is something she isn't."
              "Well, they tried to confuse me," Roberta said. "When I was preparing myself for the operation, they kept trying to talk me out of it. "Be gay," they said. "If you want men, have them as you are. If you become a woman, you'll just be taken advantage of," they told me. They were all cowards," Roberta concluded, though Garp knew, sadly, that Roberta had been taken advantage of, over and over again.
              Roberta's vehemence was not unique; Garp pondered how these other women in his mother's house, and in her care, had all been victims of intolerance--yet most of them he'd met seemed especially intolerant of each other. It was a kind of infighting that made no sense to Garp and he marveled at his mother sorting them all out, keeping them happy and out of each other's hair. Robert Muldoon, Garp knew, had spent several months in drag before his actual operation. He'd go off in the morning dressed as Robert Muldoon; he went out shopping for women's clothes, and almost no one knew that he paid for his sex change with the banquet fees he collected for the speeches he gave to boys' clubs and men's clubs. In the evenings, at Dog's Head Harbor, Robert Muldoon would model his new clothes for Jenny and the critical women who shared her house. When the estrogen hormones began to enlarge his breasts and shift the former tight end's shape around, Robert gave up the banquet circuit and marched forth from the Dog's Head Harbor house in mannish women's suits and rather conservative wigs; he tried being Roberta long before he had the surgery. Clinically, now, Roberta had the same genitalia and urological equipment as most other women.
              "But of course I can't conceive," she told Garp. "I don't ovulate and I don't menstruate." Neither do millions of other women, Jenny Fields had reassured her. "When I came home from the hospital," Roberta said to Garp, "do you know what else your mother told me?"
              Garp shook his head; "home" to Roberta, Garp knew, was Dog's Head Harbor.
              "She told me I was less sexually ambiguous than most people she knew," Roberta said. "I really needed that," she said, "because I had to use this horrible dilator all the time so that my vagina wouldn't close; I felt like a machine."

Jillsy Sloper approves Garp's novel, The World According to Bensenhaver (821 words) Ch 16. (bottom p. 450)
Wolf thought and thought about it, all weekend, and he completely forgot to apologize to Jillsy Sloper the first thing Monday morning. Suddenly there was Jillsy, red-eyed and twitching like a squirrel, the ratted manuscript pages of The World According to Bensenhaver held fast in her rough brown hands.
"Lawd," Jillsy said. She rolled her eyes; she shook the manuscript in her hands.
"Oh, Jillsy," John Wolf said. "I'm sorry."
"Lawd!" Jillsy crowed. "I never had a worse weekend. I got no sleep, I got no food, I got no trips to the cemetery to see my family and my friends."
The pattern of Jillsy Sloper's weekend seemed strange to John Wolf but he said nothing; he just listened to her, as he had listened to her for more than a dozen years.
"This man's crazy," Jillsy said. "Nobody sane ever wrote a book like this."
"I shouldn't have given it to you, Jillsy," John Wolf said. "I should have remembered that first chapter."
"First chapter ain't so bad," Jillsy said. "That first chapter ain't nothin'. It's that nineteenth chapter that got me," Jillsy said. "Lawd, Lawd!" she crowed.
"You read nineteen chapters?" John Wolf asked.
"You didn't give me no more than nineteen chapters," Jillsy said. "Jesus Lawd, is there another chapter? Do it keep goin' on?"
"No, no," John Wolf said. "That's the end of it. That's all there is."
"I should hope so," Jillsy said. "Ain't nothin' left to go on with. Got that crazy old cop where he belongs--at long last--and that crazy husband with his head blowed off. That's the only proper state for that husband's head, if you ask me: blowed off."
"You read it?" John Wolf said.
"Lawd!" Jills screamed. "You'd think it was him who got raped, the way he went on and on. If you ask me," Jillsy said, "that's just like men: rape you half to death one minute and the next minute go crazy fussin' over who you're givin' it to--of your own free will! It's not their damn business, either way, is it?" Jillsy asked.
"I'm not sure," said John Wolf, who sat bewildered at his desk. "You didn't like the book."
"Like it?" Jillsy cawed. "There's nothin' to like about it," she said.
"But you read it," John Wolf said. "Why'd you read it?"
"Lawd," Jillsy said, as if she were sorry for John Wolf--that he was so hopelessly stupid. "I sometimes wonder if you know the first thing about all these books you're makin'," she said; she shook her head. "I sometimes wonder why you're the one who's makin' the books and I'm the one who's cleanin' the bathrooms. Except I'd rather clean the bathrooms than read most of them," Jillsy said. "Lawd, Lawd."
"If you hated it, why'd you read it, Jillsy?" John Wolf asked her.
"Same reason I read anythin' for," Jillsy said. "To find out what happens."
John Wolf stared at her.
"Most books you know nothin's gonna happen," Jillsy said. "Lawd, you know that. Other books," she said, "you know just what's gonna happen, so you don't have to read them, either. But this book," Jillsy said, "this book's so sick you know somethin's gonna happen, but you can't imagine what. You got to be sick yourself to imagine what happens in this book," Jillsy said.
"So you read it to find out?" John Wolf said.
"There surely ain't no other reason to read a book, is there?" Jillsy Sloper said. …...
"You want a copy?" John Wolf asked.
"If it's no trouble," Jillsy said.
"Now that you know what happens," John Wolf said, "what would you want to read it again for?"
"Well," Jillsy said. She looked confused; John Wolf had never seen Jillsy Sloper look confused before--only sleepy. "Well, I might lend it," she said. "There might be someone I know who needs to be reminded what men in this world is like," she said.
"Would you ever read it again yourself?" John Wolf asked.
"Well," Jillsy said. "Not all of it, I imagine. At least not all at once, or not right away." Again, she looked confused. "Well," she said, sheepishly, "I guess I mean there's parts of it I wouldn't mind readin' again."
"Why?" John Wolf asked.
"Lawd," Jillsy said, tiredly, as if she were finally impatient with him. "It feels so true," she crooned, making the word true cry like a loon over a lake at night.
"It feels so true," John Wolf repeated.
"Lawd, don't you know it is?" Jillsy asked him. "If you don't know when a book's true," Jillsy sang to him, "we really ought to trade jobs."
"A book feels true when it feels true," she said to him, impatiently. "A book's true when you can say, "Yeah! That's just how damn people behave all the time." Then you know it's true," Jillsy said.

A reader writes to chastise the author, Garp, for making fun of people with troubles and Garp replies.
Dear Mrs. Poole: The world is a bed of pain, people suffer terribly, few of us believe in God or bring up our children very well, you're right about that. It is also true that people who have problems do not, as a rule, think their problems are funny.
              Horace Walpole once said that the world is comic to those who think and tragic to those who feel. I hope you'll agree with me that Horace Walpole somewhat simplifies the world by saying this. Surely both of us think and feel; in regard to what's comic and what's tragic, Mrs. Poole, the world is all mixed up. For this reason I have never understood why "serious" and "funny" are thought to be opposites. It is simply a truthful contradiction to me that people's problems are often funny and that the people are often and nonetheless sad.
              I am ashamed, however, that you think I am laughing at people, or making fun of them. I take people very seriously. People are all I take seriously, in fact. Therefore, I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave--and nothing but laughter to console them with.
              Laughter is my religion, Mrs. Poole. In the manner of most religions, I admit that my laughter is pretty desperate. I want to tell you a little story to illustrate what I mean. The story takes place in Bombay, India, where many people starve to death every day; but not all the people in Bombay are starving.

Thomas Manipadam
Cooking contrasted with writing and love.

Helen could never tell what sort of day Garp had experienced by what he cooked for them; something special might mean a celebration, or it might mean that the food was the only thing that had gone well, that the cooking was the only labor keeping Garp from despair. "If you are careful," Garp wrote, "if you use good ingredients, and you don't take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day: what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane."

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