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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The 158-Pound Marriage

The 158-Pound Marriage by John Irving

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful:

February 12, 2004

It took over 18 months, but I finally got around to reading all of Irving's novels. In retrospect it would have made more sense to start with the first one (Setting Free the Bears) and move to the last one (The Fourth Hand), but it didn't work out that way. Maybe I'll have to do that someday.

Anyway, given that this was the last one I read, my perception of "158-Pound Marriage" suffers a little because I know that Irving went on to write much better books like "The Cider House Rules" (still my favorite), "World According to Garp", and "A Son of the Circus". I think if I had read Irving's books from first to last, I might have been discouraged from reading the later, better works.

For a book featuring a menege a quatre (or however it's spelled), "158-Pound Marriage" did not come off as especially erotic or exciting to me. If your idea of eroticism is making love on a wrestling mat, then I guess you could call it erotic, but I didn't find it especially alluring. Of the four parties, Utch (the narrator's wife) is the only one close to sympathetic and is the one hurt the most by the failed four-way relationship, while the others come off as selfish, ironic jerks, especially the unnamed narrator.

Since the story begins at an almost arbitrary place, it was hard for me to figure out why these two couples decided to become involved. I would think something like that--considered so taboo in society--would require a lot of thought, but they just seem to launch into it with little care. I never understood why Irving gave the couples each two children, because the kids are invisible for most of the story and that grown-ups would do this sort of thing with children around (sometimes while the kids are sleeping in the same house) is reprehensible and serves to make the adults even less sympathetic than they already are.

The relationship begins almost arbitrarily and so too does it end almost arbitrarily. One day Severin and his wife simply decide to pull the plug and that's that. There was a little bit about how Severin and his wife were growing apart and all that, but it seems to me that once you've committed yourself to such a love quadrangle, there would have to be some sort of impetus to make you stop and go cold turkey. It's not like I have any experience with it, though, so what do I know? ;-)

Anyway, one thing I have really grown tired of since reading all of Irvng's novels is Vienna. I've never been to the place or even seen much of it, but the place just annoys me because it's featured in the first 5 of Irving's books. (Setting Free the Bears through Hotel New Hampshire) By the time I got around to this book, it had really become tedious. So too did all the talk about wrestling, which becomes even more tiresome in Irving's memoirs. I'm glad the author finally grew out of the need to work it into EVERY novel.

Everyone who's read Irving's work has their favorites. Mine remains "The Cider House Rules", while my least favorite is "Fourth Hand". I would place "158-Pound Marriage" at about second-to-least favorite. I wouldn't recommend this novel, simply because the author has much better ones available. But if you're collecting the whole set, like me, then you'll want to read it just to say you did.

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