John Irving has recently released a new book which made me think of my all-time favorite Irving book, The World According To Garp. I know most of you would pick Owen Meany, but for me, Garp was king of the Irving works.
This is the story of T. S. Garp, bastard son of nurse Jennie Fields. The story is as much about Jennie, really, as it is about Garp. Garp lives something of a traditional life--he marries, he becomes a loving father, and he pursues a career as an author. Jennie, on the other hand, becomes a feminist leader, after writing a book about her own life. This pulls Garp into an interesting new world.
Irving creates the most unusual and eccentric characters and conjures up worlds that are both fantastic and very real. In "Garp" Irving brilliantly blends humor and tragedy. In a key scene, there is a terrible accident that results in severe injuries, death and almost ends Garp's marriage. But the accident itself will make the reader laugh with the absurdity of it. As the reader will continue to do throughout the book, despite the heaviness of the situations. It's what Irving does best; it's what keeps us reading his books.
In 1982, the book was made into a movie starring Robin Williams, Glenn Close and John Lithgow. If you don't have the inclination to read the book, see the movie. It really captures the story wonderfully.