Screened December 2 2008 on Warner Brothers DVD on flight to Washington, DC
Heralded in its day for its audacious envisioning of an American social landscape ravaged by dysfunctional sexuality – featuring an aspiring single mother who impregnates herself upon a dying soldier’s genitalia; a transsexual [gasp!]; and a feminist society who protest violent rape by cutting their own tongues off – John Irving’s 1978 picaresque now reads like a hysterical (in both senses of the word) male vision of the burgeoning feminist movement. Not much is different in George Roy Hill’s 1982 movie version, except that the absurdist imagery no longer drifts along the cooing flow of Irving’s prose, but rattles and jerks from one set piece to another. What’s missing is a strong characterization of the title character, played by Robin Williams, who scrambles from scene to scene like a quarterback shaken out of his pocket, never finding a consistent behavioral core from which to regard the shenanigans. Glenn Close and John Lithgow deserved their Oscar nominations for breathing dimension and empathy to a couple of kooky types the film otherwise regards with mocking abjection. For its reactionary middle-of-the-road advocacy of American normalcy under the threatening spectre of liberal progress, it’s a worthy precursor to Forrest Gump [TSPDT #577]. Of the films I’ve seen in the past two years for this project, this is the film for whose placement on the 1000 Greatest Films I have the most reservations.
Want to go deeper?
The following citations were counted towards the placement of The World According to Garp in the TSPDT 1000:
Bruce Bawer Sight & Sound (1992)
Frank Coraci BBC: Calling the Shots (2004)
Sonke Wortmann Steadycam (2007)
They Shoot Pictures Recommended Films
John Irving’s best-selling novel, The World According to Garp, was cruel, annoying, and smug. I kept wanting to give it to my cats. But it was wonderfully well-written and was probably intended to inspire some of those negative reactions in the reader. The movie version of Garp, however, left me entertained but unmoved, and perhaps the movie’s basic failing is that it did not inspire me to walk out on it. Something has to be wrong with a film that can take material as intractable as Garp and make it palatable.
Like a lot of movie versions of novels, the film of Garp has not reinterpreted the material in its own terms. Indeed, it doesn’t interpret it at all. It simply reproduces many of the characters and events in the novel, as if the point in bringing Garp to the screen was to provide a visual aid for the novel’s readers. With the book we at least know how we feel during the saga of Garp’s unlikely life; the movie lives entirely within its moments, keeping us entirely inside a series of self-contained scenes.
The movie’s method in regarding the nihilism of his life is a simple one. It alternates two kinds of scenes: those in which very strange people do very strange things while pretending to be sane, and those in which all of the dreams of those people, and Garp, are shattered in instants of violence and tragedy.
What are we to think of these people and the events in their lives? The novel The World According to Garp was (I think) a tragicomic counterpoint between the collapse of middle-class family values and the rise of random violence in our society. A protest against that violence provides the most memorable image in the book, the creation of the Ellen James Society, a group of women who cut out their tongues in protest against what happened to Ellen James, who had her tongue cut out by a man. The bizarre behavior of the people in the novel, particularly Garp’s mother and the members of the Ellen Jamesians, is a cross between activism and insanity, and there is the clear suggestion that without such behavior to hold them together, all of these people would be unable to cope at all and would sign themselves into the nearest institution. As a vision of modern American life, Garp is bleak, but it has something to say.
The movie, however, seems to believe that the book’s characters and events are somehow real, or, to put it another way, that the point of the book is to describe these colorful characters and their unlikely behavior, just as Melville described the cannibals in Typee. Although Robin Williams plays Garp as a relatively plausible, sometimes ordinary person, the movie never seems bothered by the jarring contrast between his cheerful pluckiness and the anarchy around him.
That created the following dilemma for me. While I watched GARP, I enjoyed it. I thought the acting was unconventional and absorbing (especially by Williams, by Glenn Close as his mother, and by John Lithgow as a transsexual). I thought the visualization of the events, by director George Roy Hill, was fresh and consistently interesting. But when the movie was over, my immediate response was not at all what it should have been. All I could find to ask myself was: What the hell was that all about?
– Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1982
JOHN IRVING’S ”The World According to Garp” wasn’t a book that cried out to become a movie. But it has become one, and the movie is a very fair rendering of Mr. Irving’s novel, with similar strengths and weaknesses. If the novel was picaresque and precious, so is the film – although the absence of the book’s self-congratulatory streak helps the movie achieve a much lighter, more easy-going style. If the novel was haltingly plotted and full of foreshadowing, the film has similar trouble. And if it was finally the book’s whimsical side that endeared it to so many readers, the movie is missing none of that charm. If anything, it’s got a little more.
One of the film’s strengths is its graceful way of bringing some of Mr. Irving’s most farfetched inventions to life, among them Garp’s fiercely feminist mother and the Ellen Jamesians, who are more or less her disciples. The Ellen Jamesians are feminist extremists who have cut out their tongues to protest the rape of a girl, even though the girl – now grown up to be Amanda Plummer, who is quite striking in her brief cameo appearance – wishes they would stop. The novel hedges about inventions like the Ellen Jamesians, as well it might; Mr. Irving appears to be ridiculing and embracing feminism simultaneously. Until the final scenes, the movie wisely minimizes their importance and makes them much, much easier to take.
”Garp” is well staged on a scene-by-scene basis, but the overall movie has pacing problems. Its story consists of tiny events and wildly monumental ones, with nothing intermediate to connect them. And the story merely progresses, rather than builds. This is a film in which one realizes sadly, about halfway through, that nothing much is going to develop naturally and that anything strongly dramatic that happens to the characters will have to be grafted on. The movie is accordingly choppy and full of snippets that don’t always amount to much. At one point, when Garp wants to go watch his children sleep, the audience may wonder what the children will look like when he sees them. They’ve been growing abruptly in each of the few preceding scenes, and nothing about the film’s uncertain rhythm indicates how much time is supposed to have elapsed.
Mr. Williams is at his most affecting with the children; he makes a fond, playful father, a man perfectly at home in a suit of makebelieve armor made of welcome mats and garbage-can lids. Mr. Williams’s role is a very demanding one, calling on him to age from a teen-ager to a family man, a process he has trouble with. His performance is engaging but erratic, more effective in the clownier, busier scenes than in those that ask him to recite lines or stand still. Mr. Williams is much less compelling at rest than he is when free to represent Garp through action. When the role doesn’t call for movement of some kind, he falters.
The rest of the film is expertly cast. Glenn Close, John Lithgow and Miss Hurt are excellent, and so is Swoosie Kurtz in a brief role as a tough prostitute radicalized by Garp’s mother. As for Miss Close, she performs miracles with the toughest of the story’s many difficult roles. Garp’s mother, an entertaining but largely unbelievable caricature in the novel, becomes a full-blooded woman here without losing one bit of her crazy conviction.
– Janet Maslin, The New York Times
Robin Williams seems generally repressed in his first dramatic role, as the sheltering hero of John Irving’s best-seller, yet the most charming moments in this 1982 film are pure Williams shtick–when he’s making cute to the woman he wants to marry (Mary Beth Hurt) or fooling around with his kids in the front yard. He doesn’t really provide the firm, empathetic center the film needs so badly, given the tendency of Irving’s plotting and George Roy Hill’s direction to fragment into coy abstraction. Like the novel, the film uses its modernist techniques to very traditional ends; it’s about the propping up of middle-class institutions in the face of feminism and random violence. Nothing convinces, but the film is fitfully appealing.
– Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader
John Irving’s 1978 novel The World According to Garp was one of the major fictional works of its decade. Critics heralded the author’s robust imagination and gallows humor. Four million people read the book, taking in Irving’s keen observations on our world of deep-seated fears, capricious violence, and rampant sexual confusion. Irving has a gift for conveying paradoxes. He knows what Joseph Conrad meant when he wrote: “It is very difficult to be wholly joyous or wholly sad on this earth. The comic, when it is human, soon takes upon itself the face of pain.”
Steve Tesich adapted The World According to Garp for the screen, and George Roy Hill directed. Tesich’s sterling humanism and Hill’s healthy respect for life’s serio-comic dimensions made this film one of the best movies of 1982. The performances are all top-drawer. The storyline — true to the spirit of the novel — compels us to consider the ambiguities of love, death, sex, and violence that characterize modern life…
A story of life’s complexity, The World According to Garp lifts our spirits. Irving, Tesich, and Hill have brought to the screen some of the wisdom conveyed by novelist John Cheever’s description of what it means to be human: “We can cherish nothing less than our random understanding of death and the earth-shaking love that draws us to one another.”
– Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Film Practice
The novel form shines distinctly through this vivid but restricted and unspontaeous comedy from director George Roy Hill. The source is John Irving’s successful book, which arguably dazzled with its beloved characters and tone, but in Hill’s film these quirky, charming characters and their ditto lives are scattered as detached vignettes. The film has a segmential charm, but lacks a visionary, relevant center. It seems that Hill has lost track of what made the world of Garp attractive in the first place. He captures the events, but not necessarily the peculiarity of Garp’s being. Part of the problem is Robin Williams. Firstly, he’s not believable nor youthful enough as a high school kid (the first scenes with the 34-year-old Close mothering the 30-year-old Williams are simply too bizarre), and as the film goes on, he doesn’t have the crunch to carry the character.
The World According to Garp has several structural and tonal similarities with the twelve year junior Forrest Gump. They both face the daunting challenge of covering a long life span. In film like these, one will need to skip parts, make choices and fast-forward time. Whether it works or not is decided by how cohesive the director is able to make the chosen segments. Where Forrest Gump unfolds like a life well lived, Garp remains a set of events. They are cohesive from a strictly logico-semantic point of view, but there is no consequential progress in tone and theme.
The film’s discussions (mostly concerning lust) might evoke some reaction, but even though there are several interesting characters here, their existence seem more politically than narratively motivated. Irving proposes that men’s lust and women’s lack of it makes our species’ existence highly unlikely, or merely enforced, if you see it mildly. It’s as if he lets womanhood take the blame for his puritan upbringing, making the film depressive from more than one point of view. Only Glenn Close sees through this curtailment and gives a wholesome, dedicated performance.
– Fredrik Gunerius Fevang, The Fresh Site
Empty shortening of Irving’s book reaches for profundity, and comes up courageous but brainless. It’s actually a bittersweet string of sketches, attempting to explain a man’s growth from birth to adulthood and how he deals with the vices of lust and fanaticism that whirl around him.
The plot details an abundance of comic and tragicomic episodes, outlandish physical, emotional, and sexual adventures. Williams gives another puppy-dog performance–he has yet to land a script that takes advantage of his wildness and anarchy. Although these qualities are undoubtedly couched in the cuteness of Williams’s persona, they come from anywhere but. He’s like a wild bird with clipped wings. GARP is stolen by Lithgow, who imparts dignity and depth to his role of a king-sized transsexual, and Close’s feminist mom. The movie was not a success–even at 136 minutes, GARP still feels like its dialogue and its action are going in opposite directions. Audiences were confused; we’re not–we can’t work up that much of a lather.
– TV Guide
George Roy Hill’s The World According to Garp is ultimately little more than a dutiful cinematic translation of key scenes and characters from its source material, John Irving’s bestselling 1978 novel. While the trajectory of Garp’s life — from his infamous conception via a dying, bed-ridden gunnery soldier to his periodic encounters with plane crashes, automobile accidents, and assassinations — is anything but conventional, Steve Tesich’s screenplay reduces this meaty material to merely an episodic attempt at satire, one which never really compels as a whole…
Playing the film’s titular protagonist, Robin Williams is competent and generally sympathetic, but slips into variations on himself far too easily to convince us that his T.S. Garp really exists as a viable character. Much more believable is Glenn Close in her Oscar-nominated feature debut as Garp’s eccentric, asexual mother: her performance remains the film’s primary redeeming virtue. Jon Lithgow (also nominated for an Academy Award) is both dignified and amusing in a supporting role as Garp’s transsexual friend, Roberta, but his character — like much of the film — is sadly under-written. Indeed, it’s disappointing to see so many intriguing storylines — including Mary Beth Hurt’s affair with a graduate student (Mark Soper), Close’s relationship with a reformed hooker (Swoozie Kurtz), and the existence of a group of extremist feminists known as the Ellen James society (who cut off their tongues in solidarity with a young rape victim) — treated with so little consideration. By the end of the film, one can only guess at the richer themes and characterizations in Irving’s novel, which fail to make a lasting impression on screen.
In adapting straight from the novel, GARP fails to translate any sort of semblance or meaning from Irving’s work, what delights and enraptures on the page won’t necessarily do the same on the big screen. As one would expect from a competent and adroit director such as George Roy Hill, director of such Hollywood fair as Throughly Modern Millie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, GARP is an accomplished looking film, however by slavishly following the events of the novel Hill inadvertently reveals the limitations in doing so, GARP ends up being entertaining but slight, competent but flawed.
Overall this isn’t a disastrous film, the casting for example although initially eye-raising is rewarded with some excellent performances, especially from Williams, Close and a brilliant turn from John Lithgow as the transsexual ex-American footballer, a role which could easily have been lampooned but is played with real dignity and affection. There are stand out scenes, such as the infamous moment when a plane flies into a house that Garp and his wife Helen (Mary Beth Hunt) are planning to buy, incidentally the pilot is played by George Roy Hill himself. Even John Irving turns up in a cameo role as a referee officiating one of Garp’s high school wrestling matches.Garp feels like a film of could have beens and missed opportunities, of over simplification and guilty of not stamping enough authority with it’s own interpretation. There were moments when I thought that the film would delve deeper, a touching scene when Garp talks about the inspiration for his story regarding magic gloves and the sub-plot regarding the ‘Ellen Jamesians, a group of woman that had voluntarily cut out their own tongue in support of a woman who had her tongue cut out by her rapist, gave me hope but they both petered out and came to nothing; Pretty much like the film itself.
About George Roy Hill
Not to be confused with early-1930s MGM director George Hill (many historians do mix up the names, even though the earlier Hill died in 1934), American director George Roy Hill started out as a musician. He studied both at Yale and Trinity College in Dublin; it was there that Hill began an acting career with Cyril Cusack‘s company. After World War II, Hill shifted his interest to stage directing, and after further military service in Korea, he moved into TV as both director and writer. Hill directed for various live anthologies of the 1950s, including Kraft Television Theater, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour and Studio One. He came to films relatively late, directing his first feature, Period of Adjustment, in 1962. Hill rapidly built up a reputation for being commercially reliable after such hits as The World of Henry Orient (1964) and Hawaii (1967); even relative misfires like Thoroughly Modern Millie (1966) were at least attractively assembled. All the same, Hill was no Hollywood bootlicker; he was fired during post-production of both Millie and Hawaii due to heated arguments over the editing. Thus, no one was certain what the mood on the set would be when Hill was contracted to direct Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Hill‘s first move turned out to be the film’s lifesaver: he vetoed several co-starring choices, including Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty, in favor of Robert Redford, and the resultant chemistry between Newman and Redford was sheer box office nirvana. Hill won an Oscar for his direction, which doubtless compensated for the back injury that forced him to do much of his directing in a supine position. Butch Cassidy had built-in audience appeal — more than can be said for Hill’s next project, a filmization of Kurt Vonnegut’s almost unfilmable novel Slaughterhouse Five (1971). It was a noble failure, but Hill was feted by the Cannes Film Festival for the effort. The director reunited Newman and Redford for The Sting (1973), which did even better than Butch Cassidy and copped a Best Picture Academy Award. The Sting stars demonstrated their thanks to Hill by entrusting him with many later projects: the director guided Redford through The Great Waldo Pepper (1973) and Newman through Slap Shot (1977). Not all of George Roy Hill‘s subsequent projects were as successful, though there are excellent moments in the first twenty minutes of The Little Drummer Girl (1981) once we get past Diane Keaton‘s miscasting as a Vanessa Redgrave-type activist; and Hill‘s Funny Farm (1988) makes up for its misfire slapstick set-pieces involving nature-lover Chevy Chase with a rousing comedy climax.
– Hal Erickson, Allmovie.com
George Roy Hill was a fighter. A Marine pilot during World War II and the Korean War, even his admirers say he was as stubborn as steel. Robert Redford claimed that if you ever went to him with a different way of doing things, you’d better have at least four good reasons and still be ready for a fight.
The famed screenwriter of “Butch Cassidy,” William Goldman, says that because of Hill’s “vast talent, his skill at infighting, and his personality, he runs the show.” Like others, though, Goldman, would work with Hill on multiple projects.
Hill was known for kicking writers, producers and even actors (who weren’t in the scenes being shot) off the set. But, nobody ever kicked Newman anywhere. He had the muscle to have Hill replaced on “Butch” in favor of a less feisty director, but Newman respected Hill’s talent too much. So, they just duked it out.
Famous for his practical jokes on everyone, Newman once had Hill’s desk sawed in half because Hill wouldn’t pay his bar tab. Then, during the wrap party for “The Sting,” Newman had Hill’s brand new sports car sawed in half, just to witness his expression. They would remain friends for life, and would work together on three pictures (and Hill would help his friend out with his attempts at directing).
Nate Lee, Top Movie Directors.com
About Robin Williams
Buried under makeup as Popeye or dragging the literary fantasy apparatus of The World According to Garp, Robin Williams failed to make his mark in his first two movies. It took Michael Ritchie’s messy contemporary comedy The Survivors to set loose the manic power of his stand-up persona. Williams’s ability to create a character as it disintegrates makes his Donald, a man who tries to prepare for urban chaos by joining a survivalist camp, a wild original. Williams can assert his star personality and stay in character even while functioning as the most free-swinging element in very knockabout farce. The outlandishly thin-skinned Donald shows Williams in his most antic mode. This is also how he played Jack Dundee in The Best of Times, a man who cannot live down having blown his small-town high school football team’s final game. Manipulating the old team into replaying the game enables him to get past it—he has to get much crazier before he can calm down. Similarly, as Parry in Terry Gilliam’s Fisher King we first see Williams talking to “the little people” in conversational switches so fast he seems as much tic as man, and then learn how he became homeless and admittedly, cheerfully psychotic, and how he thinks he can recover. He sends co-star Jeff Bridges—as a burnt-out talk show DJ inadvertently responsible for the death of Williams’s wife—on a quest for the Holy Grail which manages to reintegrate them both. If Fisher King is not cloying that is largely because of the extended conversations among the four leads. Williams pairs off with an equally whacked-out Amanda Plummer, and romantic comedy never threw screwier balls. These three performances of Williams’s cohere wonderfully but are not for people hung up on gradual transitions.
But he can do shading, too. He remains himself while acting in a naturalistic vein in Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson, playing a Russian saxophonist who defects in Bloomingdale’s, and in Dead Poets Society as a prep-school teacher receiving students in his cramped quarters. Williams can be precious, but he is almost always earthy, with an amazingly unforced broadness of spirit. And he is gone bare-assed in his movies surprisingly often, unthinkable in someone like Danny Kaye. Williams is both freakier and warmer than most big comedy stars—freakier because he fires from a solidly realistic launching pad.
The other side of his performance in Dead Poets Society is, of course, the stand-up, which he first played as the DJ in Good Morning, Vietnam. These pictures give him audiences for his motormouth outbursts within the stories, and then attach our feelings for Williams the entertainer to paltry melodramas in which his characters try to save young boys. Williams as cutup, as opposed to Williams’s characters who are cutups, comes across best in Aladdin in which he improvised as the voice of the Genie, leaving the animators to keep up. He made the comedy play at five times the speed of any other Disney cartoon feature.
Probably because of Williams’s unthreatening directness, several of his pictures function as baby-sitters—Hook, Toys, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji. Even as a negligent father or a bitter man, as in Hook and Jumanji, the scripts make him unpleasant only to redeem him. And Williams is not someone who needs help being likable. Mrs. Doubtfire is the most successful of these vehicles because we can see that Daniel, who loses his wife and custody of their children because he cannot assume adult responsibility, really is the loose cannon his ex-wife complains of. Even the way he thwarts her, by getting himself hired in drag as his children’s nanny, seems more crazy than touching. This is hilariously clear whenever Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire cannot hold “her” tongue around the ex-wife’s new boyfriend. In the climactic restaurant scene Daniel sprints from a table where he is supposed to be in drag, to one where he is not, but has so many drinks he loses track. When Daniel in drag snickers that “she” has “to piss like a racehorse,” Williams adds burlesque pungency for the adults of all ages in the helpless audience.
As a middle-ground variation Williams can play the relative straight man—superbly to Tim Robbins’s deranged husband holding Williams’s philandering car salesman hostage in Cadillac Man, and less effectively to Nathan Lane as his drag queen “wife” in The Birdcage, a remake of La Cage aux folles. The Birdcage feels like something left onshore by a receding tide, but Williams plays it honest, unself-consciously adopting gay mannerisms. As a comedian Williams is commercial in the best sense and neither cynical or lazy. He has taken on a wide range of projects and varied his approach, letting co-star Bonnie Hunt in Jumanji provide the laugh-getting commentary on the action that we expect from Williams, or taking the less flamboyant role in The Birdcage in order to avoid simply repeating the formula of Mrs. Doubtfire. He challenges himself in a way that allows the audience to keep pace with him. And when he is sparking we feel juiced for life.
—Alan Dale, Film Reference.com
About Glenn Close
Glenn Close in The World According to Garp (1982).
approximately 46 minutes and 57 seconds on-screen
roughly 35% of film’s total screen time
Glenn Close plays Nurse Jenny Fields, single mother and patrician New England prig-cum-radical, who bucks gender conventions by living her life according to a clear moral philosophy of independent self-determination. The film’s first scenes show Close’s Jenny — exuding glib contentment — as she tells her scandalized wealthy parents (Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn) how she used a brain-injured WWII casualty for stud service (which in Nurse Jenny’s moral universe makes infinite practical sense) and how she is now a happy mother of an illegitimate son. And while the rest of the narrative is ostensibly the story of that fatherless boy (Robin Williams, in an admirably precise and understated performance), Close’s Jenny hovers as a formidable and enveloping presence throughout.
The accomplishment of Close’s performance derives from this presence. Close’s Jenny exudes a kind of constancy, a certitude, a confidence, a clarity, an undeniable gravitational pull that rearranges her own (and Garp’s) universe. Close’s performance makes it clear that Jenny’s her son’s rock, whether he likes it or not. This is perhaps most evident in the way Close allows Nurse Jenny to age without seeming to change in the slightest. Indeed, as the film tramps along the typical Irving expanse of time, space and idiosyncracy, Close’s Jenny seems to change not at all (even when she becomes a radical feminist publishing sensation — !) and, yet, it’s her presence as a stubborn force for healing that continues to guide her son and to reconfigure the world in which he lives. (Indeed, Close’s star power — in her film debut — nearly dwarfs the film; it’s like she’s the really really really big momma tossing those big naked babies in the credits.) But it’s Close’s performance that makes room for the vast queer family at the heart of the film, and, in the end, Close’s Jenny makes total sense as the role model for the kind of “family man” Williams’ Garp so enjoys becoming, and which the film so lovingly depicts.
…The galvanizing appeal of John Irving’s fictions derives from the queer marriages he stages between biological and chosen families. The world of this film is jam-packed — in typical Irving style — with crazy and delightful characters, devoted to each other yet not always connected by conventional blood relations. This constellation — in turn — allows for a thrilling accumulation of character performances, big and small, which y’all know Lulu’s just a sucker for. Stage legends John Lithgow (as tranny footballer Roberta) and Swoosie Kurtz (as the unsuspecting hooker whose life changes forever after an encounter with Garp & Jenny) are excellent. Kaiulani Lee, Tandy & Cronyn, and Amanda Plummer — in an electrifying 58 second performance — are uniformly great. Even Mary Beth Hurt is really good. And even more than Garp, Close’s Jenny heals them all so they become a queerly wonderful family.
About the novel
Comprehensive online study guide at Bookrags.com
“The World According to Garp,” for all its realism, is not a realistic novel. It is a novel about a writer writing novels–or, more precisely, about the way a sensitive human being communicates his response to reality through the stories he makes up. And though extreme and violent things do seem to be happening around Garp, they can be read as the objective correlatives of Garp’s rather fervid imagination. For instance, Chapter 13, in which Garp’s 5-year-old son dies, is titled “Walt Catches a Cold”; so one way of seeing the boy’s violent death is simply as a fantastic projection of Garp’s anxiety about his son’s illness.
However you see it, between the imagined event and mundane reality that inspired its invention, there is room for laughter. What is ultimately funny about “The World According to Garp” is not the events themselves, but the imagination that is inventing them.
Not that the world Garp imagines is any more extreme than the one the reader knows in reality that our responses to that world are any less absurd than Garp’s. It’s just that we don’t normally make the connections that Garp does. If we could only see ourselves as Garp sees his characters, our world might seem funny too, even though it is filled with assassinations and rapes and maimings. 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.” If we could so consistently see ourselves as terminal cases, we too might joke about and laugh at our tragedies.
– Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times Book Review, April 13, 1978