Book #4 in my John Irving Challenge, and the best one yet.
The idea that men and women are equal seems to me a basic truth. What sets us apart, medically, is our reproductive organs. Yes, you can have gender reassignment surgery, but a person born a man cannot carry a child conceived using one of that man's eggs because he doesn't produce eggs. Science has a long way to go on that advancement, if anyone is even working on it. Likewise, no person born a woman is out there fertilizing an egg with her semen, because she does not produce semen. So, when speaking about medical classification, our reproductive organs are the only things that separate us. You can joke and giggle and play the men-are-dumber card. I know I have, because there seems to be loads of evidence that we are, in fact, dumber, or, at the very least, slower to think and quicker to act, but there is no scientific proof that, say, a man's brain is smaller or less active than a woman's. (If you argue this in the comments make sure to back up your findings with cited proof. Thank you.) You can even say women are more emotional, which isn't a negative in my book, but that's not true either. Men are trained from a very early age not to have emotions, so we only seem heartless in comparison. "Stop crying! Be a man!" our fellow men bellow, and we salute our Generals in Masculinity with our throbbing erections and a call of "SIR! YES, SIR!" Okay, I'm done man-splaining. On with the review...
The World According to Garp deals with all of the above topics: feminism (which isn't militant man-hating, guys, it's the idea that both genders matter equally in society, so calm your man-tits), sexual identity, and masculinity. The book is surprisingly forward thinking in regards to the year in which it was published and the fact that it was written by a man. But of course I would think that. I'm a dude. I will only ever be a dude. Yet I have only ever read short-sighted or overtly-preachy diatribes from male authors on these topics. John Irving isn't sensitive in such a way as to come off as pandering. He truly seems to care and understand that everyone should be treated equally. Meaning, I do not believe he sat around after completing this book gloating over how progressive and clever he was in his writing of it.
The novel also deals with female rape from a man's point of view. Yes, men can be raped, too, but that's not what Irving is talking about. He discusses how men deal emotionally with the rape of a female loved one. Specifically how some men will go into hyperactive protection mode, which can be as emotionally harmful for their loved one as the rape itself. Male or female, you can never truly fathom emotionally the violation of rape unless you have been in that situation. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.
Furthermore, Garp touches on something I've believed for as long as I can remember: that rape is worse than murder. Kill someone and they are gone, they no longer exist anywhere but memory. Their life is over and only their loved ones are left behind to deal with the tragedy of loss. Someone who is murdered is no longer hurting; they cannot hurt as they no longer feel, emotionally or physically. But rape, if survived, leaves that individual to deal with the past on a daily basis. Every day can be a recurring nightmare. You relive the assault over and over and over, until you wish and beg and plead that your rapist had just fucking killed you. There are no murder victims sitting around praying to be raped to get away from their own minds.
In summation: This is a pitch-perfect book that deals with tough issues respectfully. Not necessarily sensitively, but respectfully. There is a difference. You might be triggered upon reading, but I'm betting you and Irving alike would appreciate your bravery for making it to the end. But what do I know? I'm just a dude. Read at your own risk.
Final Judgment: Powerful, engaging, thought-provoking, intelligent, and immensely entertaining to read.