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The World According to Someone Other Than Garp
February 21, 2013 12:13 PM   Subscribe

I recently read and enjoyed John Irving's The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire, and was wondering what other novels, by other authors, people have enjoyed that have a similar subject matter and vibe to Garp -- specifically, birth-to-death stories of writers or creative individuals, with leisurely, meandering plots and profound things to say about living, loving, and learning. This thread had some good suggestions, but I was looking for something more specifically Garp-y -- set in the 20th/21st century, with a middle-class male protagonist in fairly mundane circumstances (nothing fantastical or on the fringes of society), and spans the entire life of the protagonist. Mood should be melancholic but not overly bleak. Thanks for any suggestions.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
To start with the obvious, there are a bunch of other books in the Irving cannon you might like. A Prayer for Owen Meany comes to mind.

John Updike's Rabbit books might also fit for you (I didn't like them as much, but don't really like Updike overall).
posted by goggie at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The works of Michelle Huneven, especially Jamesland and Blame.
posted by BibiRose at 12:17 PM on February 21, 2013


Oh wait, sorry, both Jamesland and Blame are mostly narrated from the points of view of female characters. Otherwise Blame is just about perfect though.
posted by BibiRose at 12:19 PM on February 21, 2013


Robertson Davies' The Deptford Trilogy comes to mind.
posted by readery at 12:23 PM on February 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Seconding A Prayer For Owen Meany. My 11th-grade English teacher gave this to me, and I went home and read it all (!!!) in one sitting.

Much of Irving's writing is in this vein.
posted by kuanes at 12:28 PM on February 21, 2013


I also just finished The World According to Garp and the type of life story it was reminded me very strongly of both John Updike's Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom series and Richard Ford's The Sportswriter and Independence Day.

The Rabbit series more closely matches what you're looking for - I felt very much for Rabbit what I felt for Garp.

I also felt some similarity in writing style with Don DeLillo, but I can't put my finger on it so I hesitate to recommend him as an option.
posted by bibbit at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lisa Alther's Original Sins. Probably.
posted by ouke at 12:29 PM on February 21, 2013


The Adventures of Augie March might fit the bill.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2013


Seconding goggie - nothing says mundane, middle-class, 20th-century man quite like the Rabbit tetrology.
posted by charlemangy at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2013


I came here to say Rabbit Angstrom, but I see that goggie and bibbit got there first. Consider also Joseph Heller's Something Happened, though you might find it a little too bleak. It's certainly got the meandering, though.
posted by pont at 12:32 PM on February 21, 2013


Bukowski's Chinaski novels. They're a bit on the bleak and fringes-of-society side, but not too much, I don't think.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on February 21, 2013


I also vote for googie's suggestions. I may add "Memories of the Ford Administration" by Updike. And if you agree to switch middle-class mundanities for upper-class mundanities, then Marcel Proust fits the bill.
posted by dov at 12:41 PM on February 21, 2013


What's Bred In The Bone by Robertson Davies - I'd argue that this is a little more Garp-y than the Deptford Trilogy, myself.

If you're ever in the mood to kick things up a notch, Lanark is a bit more difficult and alternates between the protagonist's short life in our world and his subsequent life and death in the next. It's by the great and surprisingly unread-in-the-US-given-his-fame Scottish novelist Alasdair Gray.
posted by Frowner at 12:43 PM on February 21, 2013


I've always thought of Richard Russo novels as being like John Irving's, but without as much weirdness. They're not all melancholic though - some are satire.
posted by harkin banks at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes a Great Notion might be too melancholy but it's a classic. The Brothers K is a better version of that same type of story, a little more wacky and a little less crazy. Legends of the Fall is good but maybe not 20th Century enough but maybe worth making an exception for. On Kingdom Mountain has a female main character but the protagonist is male and it's got a very strong storyline.
posted by jessamyn at 12:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Might be wrong period of time but I think 'Of Human Bondage' does this too.
posted by bquarters at 1:24 PM on February 21, 2013


I second Sometimes a Great Notion. (It's the Great American Novel, as far as I'm concerned.)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:24 PM on February 21, 2013


You might like Spooner by Pete Dexter.
posted by hovizette at 1:32 PM on February 21, 2013


You might like Carol Shields' novel Larry's Party. It is about the quiet life of an ordinary man who discovers he has a talent and passion for creating garden mazes and labyrinths. The book spans about 20 years of his life, from the 1970s to the 1990s. The tone is slightly melancholic but not tragic, and Shields writes beautifully and with some humour. The men I know who have read this book commented specifically on her ability to write in the voice of a male protagonist.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2013


I came here to suggest Richard Russo, too. Empire Falls specifically fits your requirements in lots of ways, but it doesn't chronologically track the protagonist's life so much as incorporate childhood flashbacks and past scenes throughout in a way that helps contextualize his current experience.
posted by juliplease at 1:42 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy comes close to fitting the bill. It starts in early middle age and ends before death. It's beautifully written and melancholic but not bleak.
posted by ewiar at 1:52 PM on February 21, 2013


I'm the third to pop in to say Richard Russo, but my recommendation is Nobody's Fool.
posted by Kriesa at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2013


Mordecai Richler might fit the bill, particularly Barney's Version, Solomon Gurskey Was Here and (maybe slightly less this one, but it's a good read) The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:06 PM on February 21, 2013


I can't believe we've gone this far down the list without someone recommending Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

(Technically, part of it lies outside of your time frame, because the minister was born in 1879, but it hits a 10 on everything else you're looking for. White, male, middle-class minister at the end of his life, reflecting on life in the form of an imaginary letter to his young son. Gentle to the point of people saying it doesn't have a plot, and [p]rofound things to say about living, loving, and learning doesn't begin to cover how beautiful this book is, and I say that as a lifelong atheist. It's incredibly moving.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:21 PM on February 21, 2013


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Won the Pulitzer Prize a few years back.
posted by barbchan at 2:51 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another vote for A Prayer for Owen Meany.
posted by Glinn at 3:25 PM on February 21, 2013


Definitely A Prayer for Owen Meany.
I haven't read them, but I think Larry McMurtry's Duane Moore series might also fit. Each book takes place over a shorter time but the series as a whole spans Duane's life.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 3:45 PM on February 21, 2013


If you don't mind pictures in your books, you might check out Lint by Chris Ware.
posted by lowest east side at 4:07 PM on February 21, 2013


You have to read Stoner. Like, now.

This goes for all of you. Just do it. You can thank me later.
posted by arco at 4:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The River Why by David James Duncan is a lot like that, although it doesn't go all the way to death. But "leisurely, meandering plots and profound things to say about living, loving, and learning" describes it exactly, though the guy is a fisherman not an artist. But you could say he is an artistic fisherman. I don't know, it's hard to describe. But you should read it.
posted by exceptinsects at 5:47 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wally Lamb's I Know This Much is True

About a man struggling with how to best care for his mentally ill twin brother. I read it about 10 years ago and then went around telling everyone, "You've got to read this book."

It's a really long book that you wish would go on forever. My only criticism is that at the end, it seemed like Lamb just kind of runs out of steam and wraps things up a little too quickly and neatly. But it's a small flaw in an otherwise perfect jewel of a book.

(Apologies for no link. I'm on my phone.)
posted by marsha56 at 5:56 PM on February 21, 2013


I'll second the Deptford Trilogy (which I personally enjoyed more than Bred in the Bone).

One I'm only partway through but which might meet your criteria is Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. So far, it has that sense of looking back over her whole life.
posted by salvia at 6:17 PM on February 21, 2013


Came to say Middlesex, but will also join on the Robertson Davies.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 7:00 PM on February 21, 2013


Any number of votes for either of the Robertson Davies trilogies, but also Anthony Powell's quadra-trilogy A Dance to the Music of Time.
posted by Logophiliac at 7:06 PM on February 21, 2013


It isn't quite in the same vein as Garp, but W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge does have "leisurely, meandering plots and profound things to say about living, loving, and learning."
posted by 1367 at 8:22 PM on February 21, 2013


As Logophiliac said, either of the Robertson Davies trilogies, and definitely A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. The first book is very enjoyably and sets up a lot of things but it'll probably be the second one that hooks you.
posted by wdenton at 9:16 PM on February 21, 2013


Any Human Heart by William Boyd
posted by bongo_x at 11:56 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was coming on to recommend Any Human Heart as well. My favourite novel.

Also, the new Sebastian Faulks books, A Possible Life, has multiple stories that fit this mold.
posted by fso at 5:34 AM on February 22, 2013


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