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The 158-Pound Marriage

3.24  ·  Rating details ·  12,656 ratings  ·  393 reviews
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 compas ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published June 23rd 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published August 12th 1974)
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Average rating 3.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  12,656 ratings  ·  393 reviews

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Edward Lorn
The 158-Pound Marriage is book three in my John Irving Challenge, in which I am attempting to read all of his novels in a year's time. So far, I'm right on track to finish in December.

I understand John Irving's obsession with wrestling. After all, he was a wrestler. I even get why he uses Vienna as a location in his first three books. Because he was a student there for some years before he wrote his first novel. But where does this man's affinity for bears come from? He uses them in figurative a
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Jul 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: literature
Caveman get lonely. Caveman get wife. Caveman get bored. Caveman wife-swap. Caveman get jealous. Caveman get lonely. Caveman get wife. Caveman get bored. Caveman wife-swap. Caveman get jealous...

(I could go on).
Jun 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anybody who like john irving's successful books, or thinks wife-swapping is fascinating
relationships really aren't all about the sex. john irving kicked even more ass before he was widely read. read it.
Sep 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
It's John Irving. One cannot go wrong with John Irving.
Jamie Sigal
A tale about the trials and tribulations of relationships that are fraught with infidelities, an area of expertise in the writing mind of John Irving, I was expecting a whole lot more from this book than I actually got. As with most Irving novels, there's plenty of Vienna for the reader to sink their teeth into (after all the John Irving I've read over the years I feel almost as intimate with Vienna as I am with my own Toronto, and I've never even been there!), and no bears to mar or confuse thi ...more
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-reads
This is the tale of two couples who decide to share each other, or become a ménage à quatre, in an attempt to even out things in their relationships. It's Edith and Severin in one corner, Utchka and the unnamed, unreliable narrator in the other. The title of the book relates to wrestling, but the fighting image is close enough...anyway, Edith and the narrator have two things in common: they are both trying to be writers and they both met their spouses while traveling in Vienna. Severin and Utchk ...more
Sep 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
After reading John Irving's A Son Of The Circus a few months ago and enjoying it (see my review: ), I decided to read another of his books. I chose The 158-Pound Marriagebecause, unlike many of Irving's other works it was a slim volume ideal for carrying whilst commuting.

The narrator is an academic who writes historical novels. His wife, Utch, was born in Austria soon before the Soviet Union marched in at the end of WW2. Severin, also born in Austria, tea
Aug 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
I love John Irving. I really, really love him. I was very curious to read this because it is one of his early novels and I was told it was bad and very mean spirited. I think it is still better than most novels and only mildly mean spirited. Irving demonstrates his usual (brilliant) humor, his fascination with physical deformity and physical fitness, and his delightfully complex characters. That being said, I found the transitions from scene to scene vague and quick. Several times in this novel ...more
Jun 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
As a fan of John Irvin, I was deeply disappointed in this book. I'm bitter due to past relationships, but not bitter enough to appreciate the resentment and anger that overshadowed the storyline.
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
I LOVED The Hotel New Hampshire, The World According to Garp, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, and really liked A Widow for One Year. I read this even though it didn't look that good because I have a three-month-old and no time or attention span for reading anything anymore but John Irving is always pretty quick-moving and this book looked short.

If I didn't already love John Irving I would have hated this book. The characters were pretty unconvincing and if I had been convinced then I wouldn't have
Sep 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
I can't seem to get sick of Irving. This is one of his shortest novels I've read and that threw me off a bit because I've been reading a lot of Irving lately and all his novels are thick. I picked this book up because I heard that it was similar to the world according to garp (which I loved). This book was about two married couples that enter into a foursome. At first it was a bit unclear how this foursome started and Irving was a bit vague about that but once you get deeper into the story it st ...more
Oct 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
this is about a foursome, an experiment in switching partners with another couple. taking couple vacations with another couple, dinner and sleepovers house hopping. its difficult for me because i don't like the narrator. he's too goopy. and the children have no presence. but i keep reading. its really intense and relationshippy.

it turns out that i hated the ending too. what happened somewhere along the way was that i stopped trusting the narrators (a historical fiction writer!) perceptions of ho
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think that this is a book that some bored housewife would probably enjoy. For me, there was nothing interesting, it took too much time to built the main characters and the rest of it was just sex. I barely had the energy to finish the book.
Thomas Strömquist
An early Irving, shows great promise and is in no way bad, but compared to his later offerings this feels a bit rushed, impatient and crude. Kind of short also.
Andy Plonka
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Irving always has a message to go along with his wry humor and it is quite evident in this one.
Kristen Mae
Not my favorite Irving

I loved Hotel New Hampshire, World According to Garp, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. I didn’t know what to think of this one. I finished it because it’s Irving, and there were a few good nuggets, but man, I just couldn’t make myself give a crap about any of the characters or where their story was going. Meh. Sorry Irving, I love you, but this just didn’t do it for me.
Jordan Phizacklea-Cullen
Irving's third published novel and clearly getting into his stride, with his idiosyncratically eccentric characters and lyrical insight into the complexities of romantic relationships on show in this accessible portrait of wife-swapping amongst post-WW2 Austrian émigrés.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like most of John Irving's novels, writing, wrestling, and Vienna play featuring roles. Like all of his books, parts of the story are delightfully bizarre; some might even say sick and twisted. There is a common thread of sexual exploration, liberation, comedy, and even hidden depths of feminism for its time. Unlike his other novels, I didn't find these characters endearing and I don't think that was the idea, but the book was entertaining and explicit.
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
"The 158-Pound Marriage" is Irving's third novel, but it bears the seal of his trademark conversational prose, his sleek sparsity. The man is a prose pro -- even at this early point in his career -- capable of turning the simplest of descriptions into something fulsomely beautiful, larger than the sum of its parts.

However, just because someone knows how to write, that doesn't mean they know what they're writing about. In this book, Irving tries real hard to make a very little look like a whole l
May 22, 2010 rated it liked it
255 pages. Donated to charity 2010 May.

Professional Reviews

"Irving looks cunningly beyond the eye-catching gyrations of the mating dance to the morning-after implications."
--The Washington Post

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'
May 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Based on the reviews and the questionable subject matter, I was unprepared to actually *like* this book. What a pleasant surprise! It is deeply moving, tragic, and painful -- the story of four children playing an adult game whose consequences they are unwilling to consider. The story arc, which mirrors real life in this situation, wraps up as untidily as it would in real life, with no real growth of any of the characters, no happy ending, no real promise, even, that the characters won't repeat t ...more
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
When I've talked so much about how much I would prefer Irving if he didn't go on and on and on, you'd think I'd really dig this one. It's the smallest Irving I've ever seen. Yet, it somehow feels more bloated that his much larger novels. The plot doesn't really seem to start for quite a few chapters. So much early on is back story. It's necessary, but I wish he'd have woven it in more like in later books. Though shorter, it's so slow to start and never seems to get much of anywhere once it does ...more
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, situational
I really like most of John Irving's books but some of them for me, are just okay. This one is well written as are all of his books, but the story fits in the "just okay" category for my taste anyway. I was expecting the story to go somewhere further than it did and I find it hard to relate to the characters. I kept thinking to myself, "Are these people really that clueless?" And I know there are people like these characters but I found it frustrating to read about them.

I think this one is hugely
Aug 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Irving always packs his stories with quirks and characters that make you squirm. There's always some maiming going on and plenty of oral sex with dire consequences........ There - made you squirm. I've loved him for reasons I can't quite describe - like a guilty pleasure or the train wreck you can't take your eyes off of. True, I absolutely loved A Prayer for Owen Meany - but didn't we all?

And I might add this book to the "loved" category. It's a whopper of a moral tale and you get the pleasure
Tom Gase
Mar 03, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Kind of boring. I like John Irving, but lately finding out he's hit or miss. A Prayer for Owen Meany is great, but books like this one and Widow for a Year stink.
Couldn't get into any of the characters in this book and the story got old real quick. It's about two couples that swap wifes/husbands. It's predictable and no surprise ending really. Thankfully, it's only 250 pages. Avoid and read a Prayer for Owen Meany instead.
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a compelling and startling book. Irving does a superb job of feeding you each character’s history in order to understand why this foursome even happens and for me, these character backgrounds were truly the meat of the book. Because you know so much about each member you can realize the tensions and trigger points exposed during their affairs together. The underlying theme is this: scorn, jealousy and rage disguised by carnal desire cannot stay hidden forever.
Jan 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
as always, john irving creates beautiful characters. each of the four main characters represent a different angle in an approach to life and it is easy to align your loyalties with one of them while still completely understanding the others.

severin scares me a little because i think that's who i relate to the most.
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
John Irving is my hands-down favorite author. I have read and re-read this one and while I enjoyed the book and Irving's tone that I know and love, it is not nearly as beloved to me as Garp, Cider House, Owen Meany and Hotel New Hampshire. If you love Irving, read it-- you'll like it-- but if you are just trying him out, this is not the one to begin with.
Feb 23, 2015 rated it liked it
3.5. At first it was pretty weird in typical John Irving fashion but then it was pretty slow but enjoyable. J. Irving isn't afraid to tackle issues that most people are afraid to talk about in public and this book is one of those issues - the swap of partners. You can also view this as a satyre on modern relationships and family issues. A more mature reader material.
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is my first Irving and I'm quite impressed. And this is not even considered to be one of his best works. I love the way he introduces the characters and the story. Complex charactrs and human relations, and some beautiful descriptions of love scenes I reread several times. I can't wait to read Owen Meany and Garb.
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JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven.
Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award

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