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The 158-Pound Marriage (Ballantine Reader's Circle) Paperback – June 23, 1997

39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"One of the most remarkable things about John Irving's first three novels, viewed from the vantage of The World According to Garp, is that they can be read as one extended fictional enterprise. . . . The 158-Pound Marriage is as lean and concentrated as a mine shaft."
—Terrence Des Pres

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

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8 1-hour cassettes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Ballantine Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (June 23, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345417968
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345417961
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #289,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times-winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. He also received an O. Henry Award, in 1981, for the short story "Interior Space." In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules-a film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

For more information about the author, please visit

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By lookingin2you on July 11, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"The 158 Pound Marriage" is another example of John Irving at his best. He masterfully explores the consequences of infidelity in a modern marriage through a story of two couples, each in love with another's spouse. Though the wrestling imagery can get tiresome after a while, it's a fitting theme for a book whose characters are wrestling with the choices they have made in their marriages. The characters are all well developed, and the non-linear plot flows with ease. The one warning I would give is not to pick up this book looking for another "Garp." There is, was, and will always be only one "Garp." Let "The 158 Pound Marriage" stand on its own merits and you will not be disappointed.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 4, 1998
Format: Paperback
John Irving is a mastermind for rich characters. From the get go, he engages the reader with the less than pleasing imagery of a young Austrian girl, Utchka, who experiences the torture and and murder of her family by Russians from inside the belly of a gutted-out cow. It kept me reading! By intertwining the disturbing pasts of two married couples as they embark on a menage a quatre, Irving leads you through the mindful manipualtions and selfishness that inevitably follow the couples in their quest for open sexuality...or is it? Extremely saucy, all characters are completely unique and interesting. Irving's use of the wrestling metaphors through the eyes of Severin Winter,the washed up wrestling coach, are completely obtainable to those,like myself, who are totally negligent of wrestling terms. And of course, like any long standing novel should, Irving leaves plenty of questions unanswered about marriage, fidelity, and the value of trust. This was my first introduction to Irving, mostly because "Garp" and "Owen Meany" were checked out at the Library. The 158-Pound Marriage truly lives up to his more well-known novels!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Geert Daelemans on March 27, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In The 158-Pound Marriage the narrator, a writer of unsuccessful historical novels, recounts the story of his ménage à trois. When on holiday in Vienna, he falls in love with Utch (short for Utchka, which is Russian for calf). Not much later they are married and get two children. Their relationship seems free from problems until by some magical coincidence they meet Edith and Severin Winter. Without much ado both couples dive into an unknown adventure when they decide to try switching partner for one evening. At first this positively influences their marriages, but then the truth enters the scene as a fifth player. Suddenly trust seeps away and leaves them all alone with their bizarre foursome.
The 158-Pound Marriage is surely a black and ruthless book. And that is exactly what you would never expect from the author of The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Admittedly the novel starts with a crazy scene that only John Irving can dream up, but after the main characters are introduced the spirit of the story turns dark and moody. Irving keeps the irony alive, but gets hooked into the conflict between the two couples. Even the predominant playfulness between the sheets cannot lighten up the story. It drags the reader through a maze of moral questions and dilemma's.
The story is brilliantly written and again proof that John Irving is one of the greatest authors of our time. Personally I like the cheery and witty tone of his later novels (Marriage was his third novel) much more. This does not mean that they are not as deep and wicked as The 158-Pound Marriage, at the contrary, but they surely have less difficulties in keeping my attention focussed on the story.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Lux on May 15, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After falling in love with Irving's more well known works, I went back to read his earlier novels. This is a decent read, but clearly less well developed that something like The World According to Garp, or A Prayer for Owen Meany. I wouldn't recommend it as your first Irving book.

We have some of the same plot elements that are seen again and again in Irving's works--life in Vienna, wife-swapping, wrestling, and prostitutes in Europe. The subject of Vienna is given a much more beautiful treatment in The Hotel New Hampshire, in my opinion.

Children are an afterthought in this novel. They were written in only when convienent and completely ignored when more adult matters were at hand.

The book is darkly tragic, more dark than other Irving novels. I didn't find the beauty of being human as a relief from the tragic undertones. Enjoy this if you are desperate for more Irving, but try some of his later works if you want a better read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By JR Pinto on March 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
This novel is John Irving's Ur-Garp. As in The World According to Garp, two couples decide to openly and regularly change partners. That was a very small part of Garp however - here, it is the subject of the whole book.

The 158-Pound Marriage (the title refers to a wrestling class) is John Irving's third novel - the one right before his break-out with Garp. It has many of his staples: Vienna, a wrestling coach, etc. The difference here is that it is a New England university town instead of a boarding school town.

This is one of Irving's most sexually-explicit novels. The couples hop in and out of bed with each other, and what they do there is pretty well detailed. Considering that this is an early novel, it is very short for Irving's standards. Also, he allows himself to go off on tangents more. The story is told by a first person narrator who is more-or-less free writing - not everything comes in scenes. This makes it occasionally difficult to tell what is happening when.

Yet, Irving's strong voice and skillful characterizations are already fully intact here - as is his sense of the outrageous. Fans will not be disappointed.
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