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What's Eating Gilbert Grape Paperback – November 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wonderfully entertaining and amusing, this distinctive first novel goes down like a chocolate milkshake but boasts the sharpness and finesse of a complex wine, for Hedges's ostensibly country-bumpkin-style tale sparkles with sophisticated literary devices and psychological insight. Twenty-four-year-old Gilbert Grape sacks groceries in small, monotonous Endora, Iowa, pop. 1091 ("Describing this place is like dancing to no music"). Fear of leaving Endora, loyalty to his disintegrating family--particularly to obese, TV-addict Momma and goofy younger brother Arnie,"the retard"--and disgust over the technological wave of the future which is destroying the town's values have turned Arnie into "a walking coma practically." As Momma's overeating becomes suicidal and Arnie nears age 18, Gilbert is jostled out of his paralysis and into honest self-examination. The colloquial narrative voice, dialogue, colorful cast of characters and even the theatrically staged scenes are conveyed with appealing credibility. Like John Updike, Hedges invests an antihero's ordinary provincial American life with thematic meaning, fashioning the details of everyday existence into clever literary symbols. He leaves readers demanding a sequel. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Grape is 24 and stuck in a rut. Trapped by feelings of responsibility to his eccentric family, he works bagging groceries in their small Iowa town. And what a family! At its core lies his beached whale of a mother; she never leaves her TV chair and clamors constantly for more food and cigarettes. There is Ellen, his maddeningly pubescent sister; 17-year-old retarded brother Arnie, whom Gilbert loves dearly; and his older sister Amy who devotes herself to keeping everyone happy. Gilbert is saved by a beautiful and strange girl who startles him into life. That such a creature would take an interest in an apparent loser like Gilbert requires the reader's willing suspension of disbelief; but with such appealingly funny writing, one is only too happy to oblige. Highly recommended for fiction collections.
- Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 10.2.1999 edition (November 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671038540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671038540
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By hintersteppe on January 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
"What's Eating Gilbert Grape" by Peter Hedges has long been popular with my peers while we were attending high school in the late 1990's. For some inexplicable reason, this book slipped by me in those years. Recently, though, a number of parents in the community of Carroll, Iowa (pop. ~10,000) declared the book 'inappropiate' mostly due to the sexual references in the book. With all the sudden publicity, my natural reaction was to read it for myself (many persons around me followed suit.)

Upon reading the novel, I finally discovered why this book connected with the rural youth that I grew up with. The characters in the book are easy to relate to: there are devout Christians with makeup caked on their faces, adulterers, handicapped persons that garner the sympathy of everyone, underage women that the men fantasize over, small business owners facing encroachment by corporate America, and the native who got out of town and thus became a smashing success. The hero, Gilbert Grape, desperately wants to leave his seemingly boring small town of Endora, Iowa, just as so many small-town kids dream of doing. Overall, it is funny and dark but a great coming of age story.

The passages that caused the great controversy in my own hometown were over-exaggerated. There are references to oral sex, masturbation, adultery, and promiscuity in the book; but these make the character seem more tangible and pale in the overall plot and message of the book. Many parents that deemed the book unfit for their teens admitted that they read only select lines. However, those who have read the whole book tend to look beyond those few lines and agree that Hedges' novel is a work of literature with a valuable message, and I could not agree more.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jenny on January 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
What's Eating Gilbert Grape, a book that I wouldn't have read if it wasn't for my reading class. I am glad I chose to enjoy this book. This book is strongly recommended by me to anyone who is willing to release themselves from the big city life and into an imagination of a small town boy waiting to get out. I also recommend reading this book if you have already seen the movie because there is so much more detail in this book. The movie was based on the book, so if parts of the film were unexplainable read the book for better details and descriptions of the characters and their actions. The author of this book, Peter Hedges, attended the same school that I did, so it was really neat to be reading his work. The book also requires some added thought, and I suggest annotating the book for fun. It takes a little extra time but it is well worth it for the added knowledge and insight you get into Gilbert's fascinating life. Gilbert is a 24 year old small town boy who struggles to find his place in society. Through his affair with an older woman, being a father-figure to his family, and being an unexperienced lover, Gilbert Grape has plenty of new experiences in this book. His sister, Amy is also very independent, but is forced to take care of her siblings and mother as well. Both adults work hard to support their mother who is very obese and unable to leave the house, a brother, Arnie who is mentally challenged and always finds himself in some kind of mischief, and a sister, Ellen whose young teenage horomones are racing for men. A mysterious girl comes to Eldora, Iowa and leaves all the young men drooling. Gilbert learns a lot from this girl, how to let go, how to forgive, and how to show his emotions. Through all of Gilbert's pain and happiness, he learns about life through a whole new perspective and is less eager about leaving his small hometown.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Fitzgerald Fan VINE VOICE on June 18, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I absolutely adored the movie, but as usual, it did not touch the sheer genius of the novel on which it was based. Peter Hedges knows just how to portray small town life in its tragicomic abundance. The story is both poignant and brazen, but most of all, completely honest. Nothing is held back here.

It is part love story, part life story, and really delves deep into the emptiness of a teenage boy (Gilbert Grape) trying to find himself in the small void known as Endora, Iowa.

I am not one to give summaries, but as a brief teaser, Gilbert Grape lives in a home with his morbidly obese mother, retarded brother, and his two sisters: one a spinster, the other an obnoxious pre-pubescent teen. He works as a bagger at a local market and is having an affair with a woman twice his age (who has two intensely bratty children and is married to the town's only insurance agent). The entire story is based around the upcoming 18th birthday of the "retarded" brother that no one thought would live past the age of 10. With these characters and then some, Peter Hedges has created the most tantalizing story about small town American life and how it CAN be survived.

Of the hundreds of books I have read, this is most definitely on my top five list. Highly and strongly recommended!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tat Brat on July 2, 2008
Format: Paperback
By now, most anyone who doesn't live under a rock has likely seen the film based on this book. The cast was great, the performances wonderful, (DiCaprio should have won the Oscar for this. Who didn't think, even briefly, how the director "got that boy to do those things?" Admit it!) and ultimately, we feel good about the ending in an uneasy Euro-flick sort of way. If you grew up in a small town, Endora is Your Town and Gilbert Grape is Someone You Knew. Do yourself a favor and read the book, but don't expect a feel-good read. Expect a window into the mind of an understandably jaded young man trying to make it through.

What the film can't deal with, really, is the broad scope and study of the characters. The book is darker than the movie, a sort of comedy bouncing along with discordant background music. It's funny and it's not, much like growing up in the dying Endora that Hedges describes. Anyone with a similar experience of Smalltown, USA will just nod, smile, and keep right on reading because the matter-of-fact narrative hits home page after page. The characters get peeled open for us, especially Gilbert, as he is the narrator. Mama Grape is less a tragic feel-so-sorry-for-her figure and more the self-absorbed, pitious shadow that looms over this family. Gilbert also has more darkness in him than Johnny Depp was given room to convey in the film, although he did a fantastic job piquing our interest.

What really is eating Gilbert Grape? Read this book and find out how the future doesn't immediately occur to someone whose present appears to be a prison.
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