Thursday, February 20, 1997

BOOK:

Memoirs, short stories and essays mix to captivate the
attentionBy Stephanie Sheh

Daily Bruin Contributor

People like variety. They want the most channels on their
television sets. They like salad bars with wide selections. And
they praise schools with a diverse population of students and
programs.

Diversity is also an important quality behind a good book. The
variety in John Irving’s latest book, "Trying to Save Piggy Sneed,"
comes from its collection of three memoirs, six short stories and
three essays. Each of the charming entries has either appeared
before in different magazines or has been previously published in
Europe. "Piggy Sneed" is divided into three parts: Memoirs, Fiction
and Homage.

The autobiographical nature of the first section, Memoirs, makes
this the most interesting section. Irving’s casual style of writing
draws the reader in, giving him the feeling that he is having an
intimate conversation with the novelist. Irving’s affectionate
descriptions of his various friends and acquaintances stay with the
reader. The writer’s humor also adds to the natural style of this
section. A highlight comes from Irving’s observations about the ’92
election ­ he documents every thoughtless blunder that Dan
Quayle and George Bush said or did ­ the list is fairly
extensive. For example, he notes that in November of ’89, Quayle
said, "If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure."

Among the works in this section, "The Imaginary Girlfriend" is
the most memorable, though, because it describes his passion for
wrestling and his process of writing. He describes how he suffered
from mis-diagnosed dyslexia as a child but eventually evolved into
a writer. He says that wrestling gave him the discipline he needed
as a writer, more than any English class could.

It’s the little details and secrets into the wrestling world
that make the wrestling stories intriguing. He profiles the
wrestlers’ anxieties over weighing in and meeting their specified
weight classes. They struggle to resist the temptations of a piece
of toast or a glass of water. Irving does a good job informing the
reader of the technical aspects of wrestling, necessary to the
understanding of the narrative, without being boring. However, at
times, it does become a little too informative and dry.

The second section of "Piggy Sneed," Fiction, is a collection of
short stories. The voice of the writing changes, because Irving
himself is no longer speaking. But the readings remain casual,
interesting and slightly humorous. Those who have read Irving’s
novel, "The World According to Garp" will find something familiar
in the fiction section. "The Pension Grillparzer" is a short story
written by the character Garp from "The World According to Garp."
However, in the novel Garp gets stuck a part way through it and
sets the piece down. The story is then finished later in the novel.
In "Piggy Sneed" the short story is printed continuously.

Finally, the three essays in Homage mark yet another change in
writing styles. Irving’s voice comes back in to talk about his
sentiments and analyze other literary works. One essay is on author
Gunter Grass and two are devoted to Charles Dickens, whom Irving
mentions in Memoirs with intense enthusiasm. Despite the changes
and the fact that these writings are of a more analytical nature,
they once again remain interesting.

Each of the three parts is followed by a section of the author’s
notes explaining current sentiments about the previously published
pieces or insights into the process of its evolution. Some of the
notes contain additional anecdotes about the pieces’ creation.
Unlike some authors’ notes, which can become formal and stuffy,
Irving’s comments retain his friendly casual voice.

Overall, the book is extremely interesting and easy to get
through. Although each section of the "Piggy Sneed" collection
features a different type of work, what is consistent is the
reader’s feeling of ease and interest resulting from Irving’s
writing.