Friday, October 29, 2010

His formative years

Current book: The World According to Garp
Pages read: 1- 62

It's the middle of World War II, and Jenny Fields, a young woman with a rich family, decides that she doesn't really believe in society's values - that is, getting married to a suitable man - so she drops out of Wellesley, where her family sent her, and attends nursing school instead. She becomes a nurse, which she loves, and lives alone, which she also loves, but is constantly bombarded with innuendo from her family that she's sleeping around and wasting her life, neither of which is true. Eventually she decides she would like to have a child, but is still contemptuous of all men to the extent that, using a scalpel she'd gotten (legally) from the hospital, she slashed a guy who was sexually harassing her in a movie theater. (He was out of line, but still. Opened his arm to the bone and sliced his lip. Ouch.)

After some time, a nearly brain-dead ball-turret gunner, name of Garp, comes to the hospital for treatment. He can only say his own name, has no capacity for reason, and frequently gets erections and masturbates to orgasm wherever he happens to be at the time. One time, Jenny climbs on top of him and uses him as a sperm donor for the child she wants so badly. She gets pregnant, Garp dies of his injuries, and she's eventually fired from her job for being an unwed mother.

She has the child, names him T.S. Garp (no meaning behind the letters, except that Garp's rank was technical sergeant) and moves to a boarding school called Steering School where she works as a nurse. Jenny raises Garp at the school, and we see some scenes from his childhood: he almost falls off the roof after playing in a rain gutter, he gets bitten by the dog of another staff member, he generally wanders around the infirmary and talks to older boys. Jenny eventually becomes head nurse and slowly fills the infirmary with books, since she reads constantly. Eventually, Garp enters school at Steering, which he loves. One day, it becomes apparent that he needs to choose a sport to play, and his mother happens upon the wrestling coach and chooses that as his sport. The coach's daughter, Helen Holm, loves Jenny because she resembles her long-lost mother. Garp, while wrestling for all the years of his Steering career, slowly falls in love with Helen Holm.

That's where we are. Lots for 60 pages, really. I like it so far; it's very engaging, and I always love the "childhood at school" parts of novels like this. The narration is interesting because it's often interspersed with references to Jenny's autobiography, published later, and by excepts from things that Garp has written that offer a sentence or two of commentary on the situation. It's clear already from the story that Garp aspires to be a writer, and apparently his aspirations are going to come to fruition.

It's also oddly vulgar sometimes, which usually bothers me, but it seems to be passing just under the radar in this novel. He just tends to talk about erections, sperm, and other excreta more than is really necessary, but for some reason it's coming across as frankness rather than vulgarity in this book.

I think it's going to be a good one.

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