Life into Art: Novelist John Irving

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Her departure is crucial because she was the only one who could keep her husband loosely tied to reality.

Franny. The eldest Berry daughter, who has inherited her mother's fudge-detector. Early on, for example, she perceives that timid Brother John is deeply in love with her. The unorthodox resolution of this passion is postponed many years because of Franny's reaction to being gang-raped by preppies. But honesty, blood ties and spunk prevail. She is avenged and finds happiness as a famous actress and wife of an ex-professional football player.

Lilly. Youngest daughter and saddest Berry. Less than 4 ft. tall, she is neither big nor lucky enough to handle her illusions. She becomes a bestselling author before jumping from her 14th-floor New York apartment. Her death underscores the book's most haunting refrain, "Keep passing open windows."

Frank. Almost as sad as Lilly. A loyal, ungainly homosexual, a cynic and pedant who ends up as a successful literary agent.

Egg. The youngest Berry and almost too painful to mention. He plunges into the Atlantic with his mother and Sorrow, the stuffed remains of the family's old, flatulent Labrador retriever. It is the first object that pops to the surface after the crash. Hence another refrain, "Sorrow floats," repeated throughout the book.

Iowa Bob. Paternal grandfather, football coach and source of the important maxim: "You've got to get obsessed and stay obsessed." Bob embodies the necessity to live with purpose and goals. Ironically, he dies of fright.

Horace Walpole once said that the world is comic to those who think and tragic to those who feel. I hope you'll agree with me that Horace Walpole somewhat simplifies the world by saying this. Surely both of us think and feel; in regard to what's comic and what's tragic, Mrs. Poole, the world is all mixed up. —Garp

Mrs. Poole was the Findlay, Ohio, housewife who wrote T.S. Garp to complain that his books made fun of people's troubles. Win Berry's son John will receive no such mail. He lives almost entirely in his family. His preparation for life is largely symbolic; as a jogger and weight lifter, he has the strength and endurance to repel invaders and shoulder his relatives' burdens. Characteristically, he marries the most imaginatively troubled woman in the book, a rape victim who spends many angry years in a bear suit as a bouncer at a brothel.

Unreal? Naturally. Bizarre? Of course. Irving takes considerable pleasure in bucking the normal expectations of an audience. The prevailing taste of most contemporary readers is for realism, especially when the technique applies to incredible romances and hollow documentary fiction. Garp proved that there was a large unfulfilled appetite for imaginative literature—for the athletically contorted novel that, nevertheless, rings emotionally and psychologically true.

Hotel New Hampshire should continue to appease that hunger, even though its first-person narrative precludes the life-to-death cycle that made T.S. Garp so overtly heroic. John Berry's story is not resolved in violent, dramatic action but in a quiet balancing of sorrow and hope. It is a difficult act, and it is not faultless. The dazzling characterizations and sense of American place in the first part of the novel tend to get scuffed in transit to

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