Life into Art: Novelist John Irving

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happy endings."

And Father said, "There are no happy endings."

"Right!" cried Iowa Bob—an odd mixture of exuberance and stoicism in his cracked voice. "Death is horrible, final, and frequently premature," Coach Bob declared.

"So what?" my father said.

"Right!" cried Iowa Bob. "That's the point: So what?"

What you mean, how old am I? About one hundred! But Viennese answer is better: we say, "I keep passing the open windows." This is an old joke. There was a street clown called King of the Mice: he trained rodents, he did horoscopes, he could impersonate Napoleon, he could make dogs fart on command. One night he jumped out his window with all his pets in a box. Written on the box was this: "Life is serious but art is fun!" I hear his funeral was a party. A street artist had killed himself. Nobody had supported him but now everybody missed him. Now who would make the dogs make music and the mice pant? The bear knows this, too: It is hard work and great art to make life not so serious. Prostitutes know this too.

Even before she started talking to Franny, I could see how desperately important this woman's private unhappiness was to her, and how—in her mind—the only credible reaction to the event of rape was hers. That someone else might have responded differently to a similar abuse only meant to her that the abuse couldn't possibly have been the same.

"People are like that," Iowa Bob would have said.

"They need to make their own worst experiences universal. It gives them a kind of support."

"She probably has had a most unhappy life," Iowa Bob would have said. "You're not being logical," Frank said, and I glared at him.

Father looked at Franny. It reminded me of the looks he occasionally gave Mother; he was looking into the future, again, and he was looking for forgiveness—in advance. He wanted to be excused for everything that would happen. It was as if the power of his dreaming was so vivid that he felt compelled to simply act out whatever future he imagined—and we were being asked to tolerate his absence from reality, and maybe his absence from our lives, for a while. That is what "pure love" is: the future. And that's the look Father gave to Franny.

"You can't be twenty-two all your life," I remind him, and we lift and lift for a while. On those mornings, with the Maine mist not yet burned off, and the sea damp settled upon us, I can imagine that I'm just starting the voyage all over again—I can believe I'm lying on the rug old Sorrow liked to lie on, and it's Iowa Bob beside me, instructing me, instead of me instructing my father.

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