1. 1. How would you describe the significance of the title?
2. Do you consider the narrator of The 158-Pound Marriage to be
3. In The Imaginary Girlfriend, John Irving's memoir of his life as a
writer and a wrestler, Irving says that he once had the following
Graham Greene quote taped to his desk lamp: "Hatred seems to
operate the same glands as love: it even produces the same actions."
How would you describe the intersections of love and
hate in The 158-Pound Marriage?
4. In introducing his work as a historical novelist, the narrator
says, "For history you need a camera with two lenses--the telephoto
and the kind of close-up with a fine, penetrating focus.
You can forget the wide-angle lens; there is no angle wide
enough." How do the narrator's background and perspective as
a historical novelist influence his account of this story?
5. The 158-Pound Marriage, like several other John Irving novels,
takes place on a New England campus. Do you see the academic
setting as incidental or as representative of the novel's mood or
6. We hear a lot about the narrator's conflicted feelings regarding
Severin Winter, but much less about the relationship between
Edith and Utch. How would you characterize the nature and
development of the women's relationship?
7. For all of the coupling and communal activities in the novel,
each of the four central characters also spends a great deal of
time pursuing solitary activities--from walking at night to writing
books. What role does solitude play in the novel?
8. What do you make of Severin Winter's role as a wrestling
coach, and of the narrator's attention to it?
9. What kind of metaphors does the novel propose the world of
wrestling has for human relationships?
10. In many instances we see the value of protecting others held
above the need to save oneself--from Utch's mother hiding her
young daughter in the cow to the militaristic surveillance of the
Benno Blum Gang. What does the novel suggest about the challenges
and virtues of putting our loved ones before ourselves?
11. There is much discussion about whether this marital arrangement
is based on sex or not. Do you think there is an answer to
12. This novel makes clear that different extramarital relationships
affect marriages to different degrees. Why does Audrey
Cannon--and her relationship with Severin Winter--play
such an important role in The 158-Pound Marriage? What does
Audrey Cannon represent to Edith Winter?
13. At one point the narrator refers to Severin Winter as "a firm
believer in the past." What role does the past--memories, nostalgia,
regret--play in the novel? How do the characters' approaches
to the past and to the future differ?
14. The couples' four children are strikingly absent for most of the
novel. The narrator says, "I admit my own sense of family suffered
from our foursome. I remember the children least of all,
and this bothers me." What is the point of making the children
such peripheral characters?
15. The narrator makes a number of statements about the relationships
between the children and their mothers, including: "I
think Severin thought about his mother too much" and "Edith
and I were brought up unsure of ourselves as snobs--in love
with our mothers' innocence." How are the various mothers in
the novel portrayed?
16. What does Fiordiligi and Dorabella's bathtub accident represent
for the two families?
17. If you were to write an additional chapter--Chapter 11--what
do you imagine happening to each of the characters and to the
18. If you have read other John Irving novels, were there any elements
of The 158-Pound Marriage that you recognized? How
does it compare in tone and scope to his earlier and later work?
19. One way to read The 158-Pound Marriage is as a kind of social
experiment in which many of the principles of monogamy and
marriage are challenged as a way of shedding new light on the
institution of marriage. What are your thoughts about this approach
to the novel?
20. Do you think The 158-Pound Marriage has "a moral" or any prescriptive
From the Trade Paperback edition.