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The 158-Pound Marriage by John Irving
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The 158-Pound Marriage (1974)

by John Irving

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The narrator (who never identifies himself by name) is a college professor and a relatively unsuccessful author of historical novels. While doing research in Vienna, Austria, he met Utch, an orphaned survivor of the German occupation and the Russian siege at the end of World War II. At the opening of the novel, the narrator and Utch are married with two children and live a relatively placid existence until, at a faculty party, they become acquainted with Severin Winter, a Viennese-born professor of German and coach of the school's wrestling team, and his wife Edith, a WASP from a privileged background (she met her husband in Vienna while on a buying trip for MOMA) who is an aspiring fiction writer. The narrator begins a mentor-protege relationship with Edith, and soon the couples are sharing dinners and play-dates with their children. As the narrator becomes more attracted to Edith and Utch begins to fall for Severin, the couples begin trading spouses for sexual encounters at the end of their dinner dates. At first the affairs proceed smoothly, with emotional conflict submerged beneath sexual curiosity, but soon enough, obsessive love rears its ugly head, and the narrator begins to discover that the Winters have not been entirely honest with him and his wife about their motives for entering the affair.

The sport of wrestling features prominently—the novel's title refers to the 158-pound weight class, which Severin Winter considers the most elite competitive weight—and a subplot eventually emerges involving Winter's protege, a peculiar wrestling prodigy from Iowa who transfers to Winter's college because of its superior biology department and becomes a pawn in the fallout of the two couples' swinging relationship.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
When I read this book, John Irving wasn't as famous as he latterly is, but I still marked him as a writer to watch. This is a slim novel about a wife-swapping experience, which as usual, doesn't work out well for half the persons involved. It's quite chilling to those who are insecure in their relationships, or at any rate, that's what I think! ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jan 5, 2016 |
Sometimes, I have a hard time getting into John Irvings books. By far and away, this is my favorite. I find the characters likable even when they are unlikable and very real. In someways (maybe it's the wrestling) it reminds me of what Garp may have been like if he'd had a normal life. ( )
  lmm161 | Mar 30, 2014 |
Adults with too much time on their hands. Really, does anyone behave like this?
  jfriedm | Jun 24, 2012 |
By no means Irving's best. Four fairly unlikeable characters in a story that is cruel and lacking in emotion. ( )
  qofd | Aug 21, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Irvingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Broek, C.A.G. van denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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My wife, Utchka (Whose name I sometime ago shortened to Utch), could teach patience to a time bomb.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345417968, Paperback)

The darker vision and sexual ambiguities of this erotic, ironic tale about a ménage a quatre in a New England university town foreshadow those of The World According to Garp; but this very trim and precise novel is a marked departure from the author's generally robust, boisterous style. Though Mr. Irving's cool eye spares none of his foursome, he writes with genuine compassion for the sexual tests and illusions they perpetrate on each other; but the sexual intrigue between them demonstrates how even the kind can be ungenerous, and even the well-intentioned, destructive.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:51 -0400)

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