I first read Garp when I was 17. By then I had run through most of – chronologically – James Hadley Chase, Arthur Hailey, Irving Wallace, Leon Uris, Wilbur Smith, must-reads like Godfather, Omen, Exorcist, Summer of ’42, Love Story, and sampled Harold Robbins, Robert Ludlum, Louis L’Amour…(I was blessed, I am blessed)

Garp was quite different from anything I had read till then – funny, sad, heartbreaking and uplifting. I so loved the characters that I remember slowing down as the book was nearing its end so that I could spend some more time in Garp’s world.

At the core of Garp is a horrible auto accident (I have always wanted to do a story on the recurring motifs in John Irving’s books – car crashes/accidents, Vienna, bears, kids, prostitutes, breasts, transvestites, deformities, writers, wrestlers, extra-marital affairs, death – oh, all the things that make life interesting).

Irving builds up the car crash scene so perfectly, positioning all players for maximum impact (ugh! no pun). I remember the rush when I first read the passage, when I – along with Garp – was rushing at full speed, up a slippery ramp, in the dark…

Cut to The World according to Garp, by John Irving
‘Garp hit the bottom of his driveway at about forty miles per hour he came of the downhill road in third gear and accelerated just as he exited; he glimpsed how the driveway was glazed with frozen slush, and worried momentarily that the Volvo might slip on the short uphill curve. He held the car in gear until he felt what grip he had of the road; it was good enough, and he popped the sharp stick shift into neutral – a second before he killed the engine and flicked out the headlights.

The car coasted up, into the black rain. It was like that moment when you feel an airplane lift off the runway; the children both cried out in excitement. Garp could feel the children at his elbow, crowding each other for the one favoured position in the gap between the bucket seats.

‘How can you see now?’ Duncan asked.

‘He doesn’t have to see,’ Walt said. There wad a high thrill in Walt’s voice, which suggested to Garp that Walt wished to reassure himself.

‘I know this by heart,’ Garp assured them.

‘It’s like being underwater!’ cried Duncan; he held his breath.

‘It’s like a dream!’ said Walt; he reached for his brother’s hand.’

Spoiler Warning!
Generally not required for Irving’s books; he gives away the end on page 1 itself.

At the top of the driveway, in a parked car, Garp’s wife is giving her student-boyfriend a farewell BJ. Garp’s car crashes into the, let us call it the BJ car, at full clip (Remember, night, raining, lights switched off). Garp survives, Walt dies, Garp’s wife survives, her boyfriend’s dick gets bitten off, Garp’s marriage survives.

So what if Garp didn’t make the TIME 100, it scores 100 outa 100 for the perfect set up.

For me this story is very special. And if I have shared this story with you, you are special…

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