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The Imaginary Girlfriend


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Reading Group Guide

1. How would you describe the narrative voice in The

Imaginary Girlfriend? What kind of reader do you think

John Irving had in mind while writing this memoir?

2. What is the significance of the title?

3. What kind of relationship does The Imaginary Girlfriend

suggest Irving has with the past? How is his attitude

toward the past conveyed in content and in tone?

4. Considering that many of the events and people depicted

in The Imaginary Girlfriend are from distant eras

of Irving's life, and that he seems to have a remarkably

lucid memory, why do you think he draws so much

attention to the names and faces he doesn't remember?

5. Farrokh Daruwalla, one of the central characters in

Irving's A Son of the Circus, "suppose[s] that the auto-biography

of a novelist almost qualifie[s] as fiction--

surely novelists wouldn't resist the impulse to make

up their autobiographies." Do you think this assumption

applies to The Imaginary Girlfriend?

6. In the beginning of The Imaginary Girlfriend Irving

writes: "When you love something, you have the capacity

to bore everyone about why--it doesn't matter

why." How is this distinction between love and reaons

for love evident in Irving's depiction of the

wrestling world? Do you think it also relates to his

approach to reading?

7. How would you characterize Irving's feelings about

formal education, first as a student and later as a

teacher? How do these attitudes compare to his

thoughts on being in the wrestling world, as a

wrestler and as a coach?

8. Wrestling and writing are two of the passions--and

disciplines--that have shaped Irving's life. How does

Irving go from thinking he "could be a wrestler or a

writer, but not both" to finding a way to reconcile

the two activities?

9. Irving writes, "My life in wrestling is one-eighth talent

and seven-eighths discipline. I believe that my life

as a writer consists of one-eighth talent and seven-eighths

discipline, too." While most of us are probably

very skeptical about Irving's writing being based

on this proportion of talent to discipline, the concept

is intriguing. How does this claim affect your understanding

of Irving as a person? Does it change your

perception of the writing process?

10. John Irving's writing style is distinctive in many

ways--including his "archaic" use of the semi-colon.

In The Imaginary Girlfriend he also uses a large number

of parentheses. How do these parenthetical remarks

impact the tone of the book?

11. In The Imaginary Girlfriend Irving reports, "Tom Williams

once told me that I had a habit of attributing

mythological proportions and legendary status to my

characters." Do you think this appraisal of Irving's

fictional characters applies to his portrayal of the

people in his own life?

12. Irving describes himself as being on the outskirts at

different stages in his life--as a dyslexic "faculty

child" at Exeter, as a "halfway decent" wrestler at

Pittsburgh, and as a married father in graduate school

at Iowa: "What I remember best about being a student

at Iowa was that sense of myself as being married,

and being a father. It separated me from the

majority of the other students." How does this vision

of himself as being somehow in the minority seem

to have affected his life and his writing?

13. Most of what we hear about Irving's family is in regard

to wrestling--and yet because wrestling is

clearly one of the loves of Irving's life, we get a sense

of his life as a father: "Brendan, like his brother before

him, had won the New England Class A title. It

was the happiest night of my life." How do Irving's

descriptions of sharing wrestling with his sons--

from his obvious pride in their accomplishments to

his interest in their changing weight classes--help

give us a picture of Irving's own development?

14. John Irving's novels are traditionally very long, both because

of their rich description and their epic scope. The

Imaginary Girlfriend is, by comparison, much shorter.

Why do you think this is the case? How does The

Imaginary Girlfriend fit into the memoir/autobiography

category? How does it challenge the classification?

15. If you have read any of John Irving's novels, did you

have ideas about what The Imaginary Girlfriend--which

offers a glimpse into his writing and non-writing

lives--would be like? Do you see any seeds of his fictional

characters, storylines or themes in The Imaginary


Product Details

Irving, John
Ballantine Books
New York
United states
Novelists, American
General Biography
Edition Number:
1st American ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Book discussion guides
Series Volume:
no. 02-09-050
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.26x5.53x.60 in. .44 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Biography » Literary
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Imaginary Girlfriend Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 192 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345458261 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The nearest thing to an autobiography Irving has written... Worth saving and savoring."
"Review" by , "Irving's wrestling coaches, his writing mentors, and his family are vivid, inviting readers into a colorful world."
"Review" by , "The Imaginary Girlfriend is a miniature autobiography detailing Irving's parallel careers of writing and wrestling.... Tales of encounters with writers (John Cheever, Nelson Algren, Kurt Vonnegut) are intertwined with those about his wrestling teammates and coaches. With humor and compassion, [Irving] details the few truly important lessons he learned about writing.... And in beefing up his narrative with anecdotes that are every bit as hilarious as the antics in his novels, Irving combines the lessons of both obsessions (wrestling and writing)... into a somber reflection on the importance of living well."
"Review" by , "A masterpiece. The generosity of spirit that marks his fiction leaks into his memoir in tender and surprising ways."
"Review" by , "An entertaining glimpse into one of America's most complex novelists."
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