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158-Pound Marriage Book Review

Updated on May 21, 2012

Book by John Irving

The 158-Pound Marriage

Book Review

This slim tome by John Irving, the same author who gave us The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire, is a fast jaunt through the sexual relations of four people, 2 men and 2 women, wives and husbands, knowingly sleeping with each other, and then dealing with the creeping ramifications of their feelings set in the backdrop of sexuality and life as everyday people in Smalltown, New England.

Like much of John Irving’s work, 158-Pound Marriage is sexual, absolutely dripping with flesh on flesh. Yet, no crude porn is this, but rather the literary erotica reminiscent of D. H. Lawrence. And like Lawrence, it is not merely the exercise of literary ability molded over a desire to write of the body, but to make a point as existential (or non-existential) as life itself may at times be. For instance: “I was in her mouth very quickly and she covered my ears with her thighs. Utch tasted like nutmeg [sic], like vanilla, like an avocado; she was careful with her teeth.” While sensual, it is steps beyond the mere base instinct of lust.

This is friends and lovers reborn –the friends who become lovers, when in a couple, when couples mesh in more than heartfelt discussion by a fire. This is intimacy grown too intimate, as is all too human. Yet it is also funny, witty, fleetingly paradoxical at moments, and ever philosophical. The book, like all of his works, quintessentially John Irving, will make you think.

Irving’s recurrent themes of Iowa, wrestling, sex, and the setting of New England are replete between the pages, though it is the characters, especially Severin Winter, whose history and life frame the story, only to be continually reframed as the story is reborn again and again, allowing the reader to get to know each new character, by going back in time to catch further biographical snapshots that converge in the plot at who each was and is, with hints towards the future and the story’s trajectory.

Things become tense, as is true of any good story, and this tension becomes the meat of the tale that goes on and on until, very quickly, it is done.

Now the search for another John Irving novel begins. Maybe A Prayer for Owen Meany.

John Irving, The 158-Pound Marriage, copyright 1973. Published by Ballantine Books & Random House, Inc.


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