But, of course, it is not. For IsabelnMoore, the Church has failed because itnhas failed in its ultimate mission to makenher happy, or feel good: and these twonalternatives slowly ooze into one, whilensuffering remains the scourge of annangry God whom we cannot love, sincenwe cannot hurt Him back. And, sincenwe are all ultimately selfish, the identificationnof suffering with the redemptivenmission of a suffering Christ is just outnof the question: it will not be discussed,nonly demeaned. Gordon slowly, exquisitelynwrings the faith dry until nothingneven remotely resembling charity remains.nIt is certainly not the faith thatnbeholds the King of the universe manifestednin a Host as light as a feather.nWhat is left, then, of Isabel, the poornoutcast whom the “iVIe” generation hasnpassed by? Exiled to a living death atnMargaret Casey’s, her search for atonementnslowly gives way to an urge toncatch up with her already fulfilled, selfindulgentnfriends; in the struggle betweennher selfishness and her guilt (thenwilted remnant of charity long forgotten),nthe selfishness waxes triumphant.nAs someone once put it, “Lady Isabelnslides quite unromantically from a ‘sickbed’nmentality to a sick ‘bed-mentality.’ “nThe moral tension of existence collapses,nreplaced by a tidy, manageable life wherenIsabel will cope. The message is clear:nif the “Me” generation has passed younby, it is not too late to catch up. Tonunburden herself for the journey, Isabelnleaves Margaret the twenty thousandndollars which remain from the sale ofnher father’s house. Justice, not charity:nhad it not been for Isabel, Margaretnmight have married her father. But now,nin a moment of glory she reaches fornthe telephone and the angels waiting innthe wings come to deliver her from hernvoluntary purgatory to drive towardsnNew York City—and life.nOh, yes, the resurrection occurs onnthe day after Good Friday, The passionnhas ended, the ransom has been paid,nour heroine has risen above the deadnfaith of her dead father. It’s allnvery symbolic. DnOne’s-Own-Navel UniversenJohn Irving: The World Accordingnto Garp; Henry Robbins/Dutton;nNew York.nby Whit StillmannIr Ln the course of a four-novel careernJohn Irving has failed his way to thentop. The World According to Garp is ansuccess of both esteem and sales volume.n”Highly literate” and “compulsively readable”—thenworn superlatives for twondifferent kinds of fiction—both applynto Garp.nIn his book Irving has followed thenliterary dictum to “write about what onenknows.” His subject is a novelist’s narcissism.nIt is convincingly rendered. AsnT.S. Garp, the novel’s title character,nIrving succeeds in making himself “comenalive.” Beyond this central drama—of annovelist not wrestling with his enormousnself-regard —the story is alternately flatnor grotesque; “richly humorous” in reviewers’nlanguage.nGarp’s life begins when Jenny Fields—na young nurse with an abhorrence ofnsex but passion for a child—impregnatesnherself by a comatose World “War II casualtynin her care. Technical SergeantnGarp. (“T.S. Garp” is his namesake asnwell as son.) Jenny Fields recounts thisnhospital tryst twenty years later in hernbestselling autobiography, A Sexual Suspect.nIt makes her a celebrity and anheroine to the women’s movement, andnas a result the New England mansionnshe has inherited is overwhelmed withn”Ellen Jamesians,” a cult of fanaticalnfeminists who have cut out their tonguesnin sympathy for 11-year-old rape victim,nEllen James. Another Jenny Fieldsnhanger-on and Garp intimate is transsexualnRoberta Muldoon, formerlynRobert Muldoon of the PhiladelphianEagles. Ultimately, in the course of angubernatorial campaign in New HampshirenJenny Fields is assassinated by anMr Stillman is the publisher of ThenAmerican Spectator.nnncrazed opponent of feminism and gunncontrol. The implication, however, isnthat Governor Thomson and ManchesternUnion Leader Publisher Loebnare somehow responsible for her death.nMeanwhile T.S. Garp has had a romancenwith a dying prostitute in Vienna andnlost his five-year-old son in a freak accident—hisncar striking the one in whichnhis wife is engaged in an unnatural sexnact with her ex-lover, castrating him.nLater Garp publishes a sensational best-n.seller of his own and is assassinated by anderanged Ellen Jamesian. Melodramanlike this might seem improbable, but tonreaders of the bestselling fiction genrenit will not be unfamiliar.nijetween sensational episodes Irvingnalways returns to the novel’s centralntheme: himself. Perhaps all writing involvesnnarcissism; traditionally novelistsnhave tried to camouflage it or make itnseem pardonable; now some seem tonwant to make it as obtrusive as possible.nNo more false reticence. In Erica Jong’snnovels narcissism is explored at threenlevels: Erica Jong writing about a characternlike herself writing about a characternstill very Erica Jong-like. In ThenWorld According to Garp Irving writesnabout a novelist who’s writing a bookncalled The World According to Bensenhaver.nFortunately, Bensenhaver’s notna novelist but a cop—though there’s anstrong implication that he’s “the cop innIrving,” another alter ego. Within thesennot very narrow limits, nearly everynpossibility for self-contemplation isnrealized. Previously published fictionalnworks by Irving are ascribed to Garpnand inserted entire into the novel. Thennthe other characters discuss them innterms of style, point-of-view, meaning,ntheme, realization of objectives, quality.nGarp’s talent, press clippings, fan mail,nphilosophies of life and fiction, salesnstrategy, sense of humor and place innliterary history are all covered. It resemblesna one-man symposium in ThenWriter magazine. Perhaps some of then11nChronicles of Culturen