Study Guide

The World According to Garp Chapter 16

By John Irving

Chapter 16

The First Assassin

  • John Wolf hates the first chapter of The World According to Bensenhaver, but Garp is insistent that it be published ahead of the novel's release. Garp has a different motivation now: He wants to make enough money to "buy [...] isolation from the real world" (16.9).
  • Jenny, on the other hand, likes the novel because it tackles a serious subject like lust. Helen, understandably, refuses to read it at all. Plus, she's busy taking care of their new daughter, the aptly named Jenny Garp.
  • In the end, the chapter is published in a magazine called Crotch Shots. And, yes, it's exactly what it sounds like. But if you thought the first chapter was rough, just wait until you find out about the rest.
  • After the rape, Dorsey becomes paranoid and hires Bensenhaver as a personal bodyguard. Hope eventually demands that he "not live with them" (16.29), but Dorsey continues to pay Bensenhaver to trail Nicky.
  • The couple has another child and Dorsey suspects that Hope is having an affair. When Bensenhaver refuses to follow her, Dorsey does it himself. That night, his new son chokes to death at home.
  • It turns out that Hope was having an affair. Dorsey tells her to have a child with her "boyfriend," but Hope obviously isn't interested in that.
  • Despite this, Dorsey still resents Hope. He tells Bensenhaver that there is a prowler on the loose in their neighborhood, hoping that Bensenhaver will catch Hope's lover instead.
  • One night, however, Dorsey does some snooping of his own and Bensenhaver shoots him "with a twelve-gauge shotgun" (16.33).
  • Bensenhaver is sent to live in a home for the criminally insane. Hope, who has another child with her lover, manages to find some peace.
  • While John Wolf likes Garp's writing, he thinks that the novel is little more than low-brow schlock. But Wolf has a very particular technique for determining whether a book will be a success.
  • There's a cleaning woman at the publishing house who once told Wolf that she "never read a book that didn't make her want to close it" (16.43). Her name is Jillsy Sloper.
  • After she told Wolf this, he made it his goal to find her a book that she'd like—his first success was A Sexual Suspect, which she read in one night. Wolf gives her The World According to Bensenhaver but instantly regrets in, given its sordid and violent subject matter.
  • Jillsy looks haggard when she comes into work on Monday—Wolf assumes that the book was too much for her. And it was, but in a good way: Although she hated the book, she was compelled to keep reading because "it feels so true"(16.82).
  • Now convinced that Bensenhaver will be a success, Wolf sends the novels to the printers. When Garp can't think of someone to dedicate the book to, Wolf suggests Jillsy, although he doesn't tell Garp who she is.
  • Being a savvy businessman, Wolf knows exactly how to market Bensenhaver. The book jacket tells the story of Garp's recent tragedy, tying it to the disturbing events of the novel. He doesn't want Garp to see this before release, so he pushes him to go to Vienna with his family.
  • They stay in New York with Wolf on their way out, and Garp, Helen, and Wolf stay up late drinking and discussing Garp's future novels.
  • Wolf drops them off at the airport. He gives Garp a copy of the book jacket inside several envelopes so Garp won't be able to open it "until he was safely seated on the plane" (16.290). Clever move, Wolf.
  • He knows that Garp will be mad about the book blurb, and even madder about the picture of him, Duncan, and Walt on the back. We're told Helen "never forgave" (16.303) Wolf for this low-class PR stunt.
  • On the plane, Garp and Duncan reminisce about a beach trip they once took, when Walt referred to the undertow as the "Under Toad" (6.327). The "Under Toad" becomes Helen and Garp's nickname for anxiety.
  • And boy do they feel the Under Toad in Vienna. The reviews of Bensenhaver are mixed, with some praising it as a feminist masterpiece and others calling it pornographically violent. Sales, on the other hand, are through the roof.
  • Meanwhile, Jenny has gotten involved in the New Hampshire gubernatorial race, acting as an advisor to the feminist-leaning challenger to the "crowing, reactionary moron" (16.351) of an incumbent.
  • Then, one night, Garp receives a late-night phone call from Roberta. This time it's serious: Jenny has just been shot and killed during a political rally. The shooter was killed immediately after.
  • Jenny has always said that she didn't want a funeral, but Roberta wants to hold a service; Garp convinces her to wait until he gets back.
  • Garp and Duncan watch a newscast about the assassination and Helen cries, holding little Jenny. Although devastated, Garp likes his mother's last words: "most of you know who I am" (16.438). We like them, too, Garp.