Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Trying to Save Piggy Sneed — John Irving — A book review

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 24, 2007

“If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” — Frederick Nietzsche

Do Men find books or books find men? This question always nagged me in the past. Over years my own experiences have kind of led me to believe that as long as men try to find books, books also find men. I think it is kind of a reciprocal and continuous process. Maybe there is an undiscovered science to this process which I can’t get my head around, but it seems to work — at least in my case — it appears to. Here is why I am saying this: 

Long ago a good friend of mine handed me over a couple of books of John Irving and urged me to read them. I think the books he gave me were ‘The World According to Garp’ and ‘The Cider House Rules’. Not to disappoint him I took them home and after a fortnight returned the books unread saying that I did not find Irving interesting.Then I happened to see the movie ‘The Cider House Rules’. The movie left an impression on me and ever since I was ambivalent about exploring the work of John Irving. I was sure that I would explore but when and where were questions to be answered in future.  One thing was clear, whenever that future occurred I wanted it to start on something light, something that is gradual, something that is convincing and more importantly the books had to find me. With the reading of ‘Trying to Save Piggy Sneed’ –  which I found while browsing for another book – it appears that the future has come and has all the signs of it being gradual. Convincing and light? I am not sure yet.

The book is a collection of eight pieces of Irving’s writings and include: Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, Interior Space, Almost in Iowa, Weary Kingdom, Brennbar’s Rant, Other people’s dreams, The Pension Grillparzer and The King of Novel – the last piece being a truly passionate introduction to the life and work of Charles Dickens. Irving is a great admirer of Dickens and admits elsewhere ( in an interview to Powells ) – the influence of the work of Dickens on his own being as an author

For anybody who wants to test Irving this book can be a good (?) starting point

Trying to Save Piggy Sneed

A touching piece about a would be author trying to be kind to the affected party (Piggy Sneed) only in realms of imagination when in real life there is actually a lot of indifference, insult and cruelty. Consider this climactic conversation between the author and his grandmother

‘Why in the heavens name have you become a writer?’ I was ‘her boy’ and she was sincerely worried about me. Perhaps being an english literature major had convinced her that being a writer was a lawless and destructive thing to be. And so I told her everything about the night of the fire, about how I imagined that if I could have invented well enough – if I could have made up something truthful enough, I could have (in some sense) saved Piggy Sneed. At least saved him for another fire — of my own making.

With more pity than vexation, she patted my hand, she shook her head. ‘Johnny dear’ she said, ‘Surely, you could have saved yourself a lot of bother, if you only treated Mr.Sneed with a little human decency, when he was alive.’

Interior Space
An enjoyable one about a urologist and his architect wife, their newly purchased home and its dying owner, a smug neighbour, a common walnut tree and the troubles around it all set in a university town rampant with unchecked spread of vinereal diseases in the student community there in – all woven together in a very imaginative and serenely funny way. Allows us a glimpse of Irving’s capabilities for imagination and putting diverse people and situations together very coherently.

Almost in Iowa

A frustrated husband’s attempt to run away from his wife in his fragile Volvo sedan, the travels across multiple states in the US, his experiences along the way and decision to retun home. A poignant piece that is enjoyable too. First class writing.

Weary Kingdom
What happens when a strong minded individual with independent views and no strict rules of living her life is introduced to a staid place where life is organised and runs according to rules and a well defined power structure ? The story is told from the perspective of the person who is at the top of the power structure and watches the place break away in front of her own eyes helplessly

Brennbar’s Rant
A drunks attempt to justify why pimples can become a form of discrimination more vicious than normally what one experiences when one is a black, weak, poor or intelligent. It is a potent but brief rant well crafted into a situation. Enjoyable

Other people’s dreams
What happens when one has a gift of experiencing other people’s dreams? A sad tale of a recently divorced person experiencing the dreams of his separated son, wife and also parents

The Pension Grillparzer

I have never read anything like this.  A whole lot of improbable things get mixed up in a fantastic way. A tourism bureau inspector on his job to assess and rate hotels, reaches The Pension Grillparzer, along with his family including his mother-in-law where they meet an ageing bear that rides a uni cycle, a man who narrates dreams, a man who walks on his hands and a hungarian singer — all providing strange experiences to the visiting family. It was a hard read and I am not sure if I enjoyed this piece in its totality.

The King of Novel

One of the finest introductions to Charles Dickens – his life and work — mostly centered around his novel ” Great Expectations”.  It is very evident that Irving holds Dickens very high in his esteem. Irving brings out the mastery of Dickens in creating characters, his powers of description, plot and his overall purpose of fighting the social ills of his time through the medium of novel. An essay like this will straightaway earn a A+ had it been submitted for a dissertation for a master’s degree.


As an aside one thing that really attracted my attention in this book was Irving’s view of what it takes to be writer:

“This is a memoir, but please understand that (to any writer with a good imagination) all memoirs are false. A fiction writers memory is an especially imperfect provider of detail; we can always imagine a better detail than one we can remember. The correct detail is rarely exactly what happened, the most truthful detail is what could have happened or what should have. Half my life is an act of revision, more than half the act is performed with small changes. Being a writer is a strenuous marriage between careful observation and just as carefully imagining the truths you have not had the opportunity to see. The rest is the necessary strict toiling with the language; for me this means writing and rewriting sentences until they sound as spontaneous as good conversation” 

By the way Charlize Theron looks like an angel in ‘The Cider House Rules’. Worth watching for some great acting by Micheal Caine and Toby Maguire


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