Thursday, March 24, 2005

The World According to Garp

I tore through this book's 600 pages in about 12 hours. What a good book. Not sure if it has any serious literary merit, whatever that is, but it sure was freakin' addicting. I couldn't put the damn thing down even when I really really should have.

I wonder if Charlie Kaufman ever read Garp? If you've ever seen his film Adaptation, a great movie no doubt, you're familiar with the main character writing himeself into the script he is writing in the movie. It gets more confusing. The movie itself, Adaptation, not the one Charlie Kaufman's character is writing but the one Charlie Kaufman himself wrote, also takes the form of the screenplay the main character of Adaptation is writing. It is really cool although I'm sure I could have described it more clearly here.

Anyway, this is pretty much what happens in Garp. The book is about a writer who is struggling to write good books. He writes one book that is described as a x-rated soap opera. But what's so great is that John Irving's Garp is an x-rated soap opera too. Not only for the inclusion of the first chapter of the main character's x-rated soap opera (which is a neat literary 'device'?), but also because there was more sperm, blowjobs and limb-loss in this book than any other I've read.

It really is a wonderful book because it also contains some insightful cultural commentary...not just blood and sex. Which is pretty much one main point I think Irving is trying to make in Garp.

But I do need to be careful about looking too much into the 'points' the author of a novel is trying to make. I really do think that novels and other creative projects, be it art, film, short stories whatever, should be judged on their aesthetic power only, not on the points they make. Of course the subject matter of some work of art is a very important factor in eliciting some aesthetic response, but that's all it should be. A painting of Christ on the cross with the romans spearing him might elicit very strong emotions because we know its Christ, but I certainly don't think the picture should be seen as some sort of commentary on Christ's crucifixion.

I need to think more about this obviously...but from Garp for instance, one might be able to extract some coherent thesis about what family life is like in America. Or what some of the troubles families have are. But I think this is a bad way to gauge the merit of a novel. If you want to write about family life goddammit, do it in sociology journals. Novelists trying to locate some timeless placeless aspect of the human experience might be interesting aesthetically, but let's not judge the value of the book on how well they actually do locate it. SHIT...this is frustrating. I need to think more about this.

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