Friday, February 20, 2015

Why Art Matters: John Irving

Wrestler turned author.

I backed into Irving fandom in '88, a homework, dinner and a movie date with a boyfriend at the time. The homework was chemistry, the dinner cornish hens and the movie The World According to Garp. The relationship (and my pre-pharmacy major) didn't last, but my relationship with Irving's stories did.

His work has been described as similar to Charles Dickens, a fact I can hardly argue but I see his style as uniquely his own. He set his characters in absurd situations for which they act perfectly normal. His worlds are filled with bears in crisis, hookers with sage life advice, horny teenage boys, the world of wrestling, mental illness and finding yourself in Vienna. What is consistent is his blend of comedy and drama, like the grudge one man held against a baby since his dog was hit by a diaper truck. Strong female characters are also a constant.

Memorable characters include Owen, who believes he was conceived in a VIRGIN BIRTH; Garp, conceived by an asexual nurse who rapes a patient as he lay dying; Freud, the Viennese innkeeper who believes he is training a bear, who is actually a woman in a bear suit; Dr. Wilbur Larch, head of an orphanage who is also an abortion doctor; Piggy Sneed, a man of no consequence made heroic by a child's blatant lies; Ruth, used as a pawn in her parents dissolving marriage turned novelist, who of course befriends a prostitute in Vienna.

Even though Irving has his own unique set of tropes, he never relies on cliche to complete his story. His stories are never neatly tied in a bundle, yet you do not feel cheated out of a satisfying ending. You are offered redemption in one way or another, at the end.

No comments: