Study Guide

The World According to Garp Chapter 12

By John Irving

Chapter 12

It Happens to Helen

  • Garp has always been terrified of late-night phone calls—they send his already hyper-charged anxiety levels past eleven.
  • Even so, he ends up making one himself after learning that Cushie's died in childbirth. Strangely, though, Fat Stew seems upset by this gesture. What Garp didn't realize is that Cushie died a while back: Bonkers had died the previous day.
  • One night, Garp receives a late-night call from Roberta: another boyfriend has "flown the coop" (12.23). Roberta feels isolated after her sex change because of how slimy men can be.
  • Roberta calls again a few weeks later. Oddly, Helen picks it up this time—in fact, she rushes to get it
  • Helen isn't even in bed the next time Roberta calls. She's downstairs reading a story written by a student named Michael Milton.
  • Michael Milton is a third-year grad student with a wispy mustache—he has his bachelors' degree in French from Yale. He's pretty lame: he loves to make a big deal about his time living in Paris, despite the fact that "he'd only spent a year" (12.73) there.
  • Michael takes Helen's class and hands her a sexually suggestive note on the first day of class. Although Michael is hardly her type, Helen finds herself attracted to him—it doesn't help that Garp has been getting on her nerves lately.
  • For example, Helen hates how Garp pulls into their driveway. Their house is at the bottom of a hill, so Garp cuts the engine and lights as they get to the driveway, and then idles into the garage.
  • Helen notices that her car's gearshift knob is broken, exposing sharp metal, but while it hurts her hand, neither Garp nor Helen makes the effort to fix it.
  • Michael Milton is waiting outside Helen's office when she arrives at work. Helen tries to make it clear that she's not interested, but even she must admit that he "tempted her" (12.111).
  • They start spending time together, ostensibly so Helen can help Michael with his writing. Garp notices her new reading and writes a story called "Vigilance" to win back his favorite reader.
  • It's a simple story about a man, like Garp, who chases after speeding cars in his neighborhood; he meets a few odd characters until a plumber named O. Fecteau freaks out and is arrested. Yeah, it's about as interesting as it sounds.
  • Helen doesn't like the story—to her, it's "not much of anything" but a "trifle" (12.224). Garp storms upstairs and falls asleep.
  • Helen goes upstairs and performs oral sex on Garp. Strangely, she now feels "freed to have her dreams" (12.251).