What's Eating Gilbert Grapeby Peter Hedges
Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband's suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert's long-suffering older sister, Amy,… See more details below
Just about everything in Endora, Iowa (pop. 1,091 and dwindling) is eating Gilbert Grape, a twenty-four-year-old grocery clerk who dreams only of leaving. His enormous mother, once the town sweetheart, has been eating nonstop ever since her husband's suicide, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. Gilbert's long-suffering older sister, Amy, still mourns the death of Elvis, and his knockout younger sister has become hooked on makeup, boys, and Jesus in that order. But the biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert's younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. As the Grapes gather in Endora, a mysterious beauty glides through town on a bicycle and rides circles around Gilbert, until he begins to see a new vision of his family and himself....
With this wry portrait of small-town Iowa and a young man's life at the crossroads Peter Hedges created a classic American novel "charged with sardonic intelligence" (Washington Post Book World).
Philadelphia Inquirer Touching....By the book's exhilaratingly luminous ending...we have already been mesmerized.
The New York Times Completely original...a novel that reads like...a collaboration between Nathanael West and Garrison Keillor, or David Lynch and Grandma Moses.
Harry Crews What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a story that outruns the covers of the book in which it is contained. Once you read this story, it will be with you forever this place amd these people will live in your heart and in the blood it pumps. I am utterly dumbfounded when a first novel of this quality comes along. I send Peter Hedges the ultimate compliment one writer can send another: I'll surely read the next thing you write.
Publishers Weekly Wonderfully entertaining and amusing...goes down like a chocolate milkshake but boasts the sharpness and finesse of a complex wine....Like John Updike, Hedges invests an antihero's ordinary provincial life with theamatic meaning....
The New York Times Hedges' writing possesses a sincerity that directly engages the reader's sympathies. The result is a narrative that is alternately sad, funny and gruesome, a narrative that uses the story of this one unfortunate family to create a portrait of small town life that's frequently as affecting as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, as disturbing and darkly surreal as Nathanael West's Dream Life of Balso Snell. At once the story of one young man's coming of age, and an elegy for those outsiders and misfits who find themselves sidetracked from the American Dream, What's Eating Gilbert Grape stands as a most auspicious debut.
Philadelphia Inquirer A picture of tragedy painted in humor...Gilbert Grape is one of the breed of male narrators whose sweet, wry, endearing voices invest every failing with humor and every ordinary moment with a measure of worried perplexity bordering on awe....Gilbert's sexuality is subtly and tenderly evoked....[Hedges has fashioned] a world at once vast and finite....
Publishers Weekly Hedges' ostensibly country-bumpkin-style tale sparkles with sophisticated literary devices and psychological insight....The colloquial narrative voice, dialogue, colorful cast of characters...are conveyed with appealing credibility....Hedges leaves readers demanding a sequel.
Cedar Rapids Gazette Terrific...wonderfully entertaining...a literary delight....There's a bit of John Updike's Rabbit trilogy in this charming narrative, just as there are traces of Richard Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar. But mostly there's Peter Hedges, who grabs the reader early on with this tale....The pace of the narrative sweeps the reader along to a most compelling and poignant conclusion....Nuggets pop off the page with regularity and make this story come alive....What's Eating Gilbert Grape has the feel of simplicity, but you know you're reading something complex and artistically crafted. The book has the air of whimsy, but will grab you with fierce credibility. Hedges is a young author to be reckoned with.
Washington Post Book World Hedges writes with energy and wit...charged with sardonic intelligence.
- Simon & Schuster
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Read an Excerpt
Standing with my brother Arnie on the edge of town has become a yearly ritual.
My brother Arnie is so excited because in minutes or hours or sometime today trucks upon trailers upon campers are going to drive into our home town of Endora, Iowa. One truck will carry the Octopus, another will carry the Tilt-A-Whirl with its blue and red cars, two trucks will bring the Ferris wheel, the games will be towed, and most important, the horses from the merry-go-round will arrive.
For Arnie, this is better than Christmas. This beats the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny: all those stupid figures that only kids and retarded adults seem to stomach. Arnie is a retard. He's about to turn eighteen and my family is planning an enormous party. Doctors said we'd be lucky if he lived to be ten. Ten came and went and now the doctors are saying, "Any time now, Arnie could go at any time." So every night my sisters and me, and my mom too, go to bed wondering if he will wake up in the morning. Some days you want him to live, some days you don't. At this particular moment, I've a good mind to push him in front of the oncoming traffic.
My oldest sister, Amy, has fixed us a picnic feast. In a thermos was a quart of black cherry Kool-Aid, all of which Arnie drank in such a hurry that above his top lip is a purplish mustache. One of the first things you should know about Arnie is that he always has traces of some food on his face -- Kool-Aid or ketchup or toast crumbs. His face is a kind of bulletin board for the four major food groups.
Arnie is the gentlest guy, but he can surprise this brother. In the summertime, he catches grasshoppers and sticks them in this metal tab on the mailbox, holding them there, and then he brings down the metal flag, chopping off the grasshopper heads. He always giggles hysterically when he does this, having the time of his life. But last night, when we were sitting on the porch eating ice cream, a countless sea of grasshopper bodies from summers past must have appeared to him, because he started weeping and sobbing like the world had ended. He kept saying, "I killed 'em, I killed 'em." And me and Amy, we held him close, patted his back and told him it was okay.
Arnie cried for hours, cried himself to sleep. Makes this brother wonder what kind of a world it would be if all the surviving Nazis had such remorse. I wonder if it ever occurs to them what they did, and if it ever sinks in to a point that their bodies ache from the horrible mess they made. Or are they so smart that they can lie to us and to themselves? The beautiful thing about Arnie is that he's too stupid to lie. Or too smart.
I'm standing with binoculars, looking down Highway 13; there is no sign of our annual carnival. The kid is on his knees, his hands rummaging around in the picnic basket. Having already eaten both bags of potato chips, both peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and both chocolate donuts, he locates a green apple and bites into it.
By trying to ignore Arnie's lip-smacking noises, I am attempting the impossible. You see, he chews as if he's just found his mouth and the sounds are that of good, sloppy sex. My brother's slurps and gulps make me want to procreate with an assortment of Endora's finest women.
It's the twenty-first of June, the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. It isn't even 7:00 a.m. yet and here I stand, little brother in tow. Somewhere some smart person still sleeps.
Bread crust and peanut-butter chunks fall off Arnie's T-shirt as he stretches it down past his knees. "Gilbert?"
"What is it?"
"How many more miles?"
"I don't know."
"How many, how many more till the horses and stuff?"
Arnie blows out his lips with a sound like a motorboat and he circles the picnic basket, drool flying everywhere. Finally, he sits down Indian style and starts quietly to count the miles.
I busy myself throwing gravel rocks at the Endora, Iowa, town sign. The sign is green with white printing and, except for a divot that I left last year at this time with my rock throwing, it is in excellent condition. It lists Endora's population at 1,091, which I know can't be right, because yesterday my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Brainer, choked on a chicken bone while sitting on her porch swing. A great loss is felt by no one.
Mrs. Brainer retired years ago. She lived half a block from the town square, so I'd see her pretty much every day, always smiling at me as if she expected me to forget all the pain she'd inflicted. I swear this woman smiled all the time. Once, as she was leaving the store, her sack of groceries ripped. Cans of peaches and fruit cocktail dropped out onto the floor, cutting open her toes. My boss and I saw this happen. She pushed up a real big grin as the tears fell off her cheeks. I resacked her cans, but she couldn't stop smiling and crying, and her toes couldn't stop bleeding.
I'm told that when they found her on the porch, her hands were up around her throat, and there were red scratch marks on her neck, in her mouth, and pieces of flesh under her fingernails. I wonder if she was smiling then.
Anyway, they took her body to McBurney's Funeral Home in Motley. They'll be planting her tomorrow.
"Uhm. The horses, the rides, the horses are coming, right? Right?"
Endora is where we are, and you need to know that describing this place is like dancing to no music. It's a town. Farmers. Town square. Old movie theater closed down so we have to drive sixteen miles to Motley to see movies. Probably half the town is over sixty-five, so you can imagine the raring place Endora is on weekend nights. There were twenty-three in my graduating class, and only four are left in town. Most went to Ames or Des Moines and the really ambitious made it over to Omaha. One of those left from my class is my buddy, Tucker. The other two are the Byers brothers, Tim and Tommy. They stayed in town because of a near fatal, crippling car accident, and they just kind of ride around the square racing in their electric wheelchairs. They are like the town mascots, and the best part is they are identical twins. Before the accident no one could tell them apart. But Tim's face was burned, and he's been given this piglike skin. They both were paralyzed but only Tommy lost his feet.
The other day in our weekly paper, the Endora Express, pigskin Tim pointed out the bright side in all of this. Now it is easy to tell which is which. After many years Tim and Tommy have finally found their own identities. That's a big thing in Endora these days. Identities. And the bright side. We got people here who've lost their farms to the bank, kids to wars, relatives to disease, and they will look you square in the eye and, with a half grin, they'll tell you the bright side.
The bright side for me is difficult on mornings like these. There's no escaping that I'm twenty-four years old, that I've been out of Iowa a whopping one whole time, that you could say about all I've done in my life to this point is baby-sit my retard brother, buy cigarettes for my mother, and sack groceries for the esteemed citizens of Endora.
"Gilbert?" says Arnie. He has frosting all around his mouth and a glob of jelly above his good eye.
"You sure they're coming? We've been standing such a long time."
"They'll be along any second." I take a napkin from the basket and spit in it.
"Come here, Arnie."
"Everybody's always wiping me!"
"Why do you think that is?"
For Arnie, that is an answer.
I give up on spring cleaning his face and look down the road. The highway is empty.
Last year the big rides came pretty early. The trailers and the campers came later. Arnie is really only interested in the horses from the merry-go-round.
I say, "Hey, Arnie, there's still sleep in my eyes," but he isn't interested. He nibbles on his bottom lip; he's working on a thought.
My little brother is a somewhat round-looking kid with hair that old ladies always want to comb. He is a head shorter than me, with teeth that look confused. There's no hiding that he's retarded. You meet him and you figure it out right away.
"Gilbert! They're not coming!"
I tell him to stop shouting.
"They're not coming at all, Gilbert. The rides got in a big crash and all the workers hung themselves...."
"They will be here," I say.
"They hung themselves!"
"No, they didn't."
"You don't know! You don't know!"
"Not everybody hangs himself, Arnie."
He doesn't hear this because he reaches into the basket, stuffs the other green apple inside his shirt, and starts running back to town. I shout for him to stop. He doesn't, so I chase after him and grab his waist. I lift him in the air and the apple drops out onto the brown grass.
"Let me go. Let me go."
I carry him back to the picnic basket. He clings to me, his legs squeeze around my stomach, his fingers dig into my neck. "You're getting bigger. Did you know that?" He shakes his head, convinced I'm wrong. He's not any taller than last year, but he's rounder, puffier. If this keeps up, he'll soon be too big for me to pick up. "You're still growing. You're getting harder and harder for me to carry. And you're getting so strong, too."
"Nope. It's you, Gilbert."
"It's not me. Believe me, Arnie Grape is getting bigger and stronger. I'm sure of it."
I set him down when I get to the picnic basket. I'm out of breath; beads of sweat have formed on my face.
Arnie says, "You're just getting little."
"I know. You're getting littler and littler. You're shrinking."
Stupid people often say the smartest things. Even Arnie knows that I'm in a rut.
Since I don't believe in wearing a watch, I can't tell the exact time -- but this moment, the one when my goofy brother rips the bandage off my heart, is followed by a yelp. Arnie's yelp. He points east, and with the binoculars I locate a tiny dot moving our way. Several dots follow.
"Is it them? Is it them?"
"Yes," I say.
Arnie's jaw drops; he starts dancing.
"Here come the horsies. Here come the horsies!"
He begins howling and jumping up and down in circles; slobber sprays from his mouth. Arnie is entering heaven now. I stand there watching him watch as the rides grow. I just stand there hoping he won't sprout wings and fly away.
Copyright © 1991 by Peter Hedges
Meet the Author
Peter Hedges, a novelist and playwright, grew up in West Des Moines, Iowa. His newest novel is An Ocean in Iowa. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.
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This is a near perfection in its simplicity of complicated human frailities. I loved this book! For once I agree with every customer review dating from 2000. The reviews were sincere, inspired and should tempt everyone to read this wonderful family drama. The film was well done, as well, and followed the book almost verbatim, with just a little more drama. Leonardo DiCaprio was brilliant as retarded Arnie, and deserved the Academy Award. Like a lot of people I had seen the movie long before I read the book, and I love them both. However, the book provides more detail and insight into the tediousness and exhaustion in Gilberts and Amys everyday lives. The amount of food and cooking it took to maintain the mothers demands and appetite is overwhelming. And the scene where Arnie stayed in the bathtub all night waiting for Gilbert to get him out...wow! Poor Gilbert! Read this book, and maybe your life situation might seem a little easier.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape is the story of a self-sacrificing man who, even though sometimes it's hard for him to do, always puts the rest of his family before his own desires. However, when a young woman named Becky comes to town, Gilbert struggles even more with the problems that he was already having trouble controlling. To me, this book shows us that if you don't try to make everything about yourself, and you spend more of your time helping others than helping you, it will pay off in the end. I really enjoy Hedges' style of writing in this novel, with very simple and to the point dialogue and descriptions, but still with enough embellishment so that you picture the characters and settings exactly the way he wants you to. Also, Hedges does a great job at bringing the characters to life in a believable, life-like way, and the way that the family interacts is identical to some of the dysfunctional families of my friends and acquaintances. The only thing I do not like about this book is that I watched the movie first. Some of the characters are described differently in the book than they are portrayed in the film, and after watching the movie first it's hard to picture the character Arnie as overweight when he is played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The only reason I can find for someone not to read this book is if they don't enjoy reading great pieces of literature, because that is certainly what What's Eating Gilbert Grape falls under.
I took a car ride that was 10 hours and I read the entire book. From the first page you are hooked! It was one of those stories you hate to see end! I recommend this book to all teens and adults, not so much a kids book. I loved every minute of it! I had seen the movie because I am a HUGE Johnny Depp fan and I thought the movie was sort of dumb... so I read the book and thought the story is so great, too bad the movie wasn't so great. Although Johnny Depp's portrayal of Gilbert was amazing. Any way read the book if any and if your not a movie fan, don't watch it, it will make you confused.
The characters in What's Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges are gritty and flawed and repulsive and totally engaging as well as entirely believable. It's a great study of a young man seeking meaning for his life and trying to decide when he can put his own needs before the needs of a very dysfunctional family. Gilbert's day-to-day life in small-town Iowa is mind-numbingly realistic, and you can understand both his frustrations at the life he's living and the limitations that keep him living it. As long as he doesn't think too much about his situation or analyze his prospects for the future, life can go on as before. But when a girl who is very different from anyone else Gilbert knows arrives on the scene, he begins to question everything. This is a great book to read in a mother-daughter book club of girls in 11th grade up or an adult book club and then to watch the movie. Comparing and contrasting the two is very interesting, particularly since author Peter Hedges also wrote the screenplay.
This books is definitely one of my favorite books. Soon, I'll be reading 'An Ocean in Iowa', Hedges second novel, soon. This novel is about a 24-year-old named Gilbert Grape and his struggles growing up in a difficult family. I watched the film before reading the novel, and they are both great. To this day, What's Eating Gilbert Grape has remained my favorite film of all-time. It is simply a masterpiece dramedy. I loved and enjoyed the book, and strongly recommend it to anyone.
I have thought about going back and writing reviews of some books I've recently read, but could never find the time to do it. But after finishing this book no more than 10 minutes ago, I couldn't keep myself from running right over to the computer, its that good. I could go on for a long time about why this book is so amazing, but I will just tell you one simple truth: this book is real, it captures life in a bottle for you to hold up to the light and examine in a way you never have before. There is a page in the life of every person contained in this work, with a hilarious, cynically optimistic (yes I'm aware this is an oxymoron, but somehow after reading the book it makes sense) view of the world, that will not leave one reader untouched.
I myself am a 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Wrinkle in Time' fantasy type person. This book has become the only realistic book I've ever loved. Mostly because Gilbert makes such a witty, and brutally honest narrator, and you really get to love the characters in the book. It's not a gushy-romancy thing, but it really feels like real feelings are being delt with. Applause for Hedges for creating a masterpiece!
What's Eating Gilbert Grape is an inspiring story of a young man discovering who he is and what truly matters in life through the many 'surprises' that come along during one summer, one chapter in his life. Gilbert Grape possesses qualities so unknown and yet so easy to relate to that it is possibly the greatest book I have ever read. I first saw the movie and noticed that it was based on a novel by Peter Hedges and so I am now in the process of finishing the book and am thoroughly enjoying comparing the differences in each story, although I cannot say which is better. I recommend this book to anyone who is searching for a fictional companion in this fight for ultimate happiness.
This book got me back into reading about four years ago. Since then I have collected nearly 60 different books on various subjects. It inspired me to go into writing, and I'm currently writing a novel on the American Revolution and a screenplay on Joseph Plumb Martin. My goal is to write 10 books in my lifetime, and some of them take place in the midwest. This book really hit home for me. Because I am from a small town in Illinois that is similar to Endora. And I know of families that are similar to Gilbert Grape's. My Grandmother, Mother, and aunt are somewhat similar to momma. There are some great scenes and lines that I just love! The movie was good, but the book is 10 times better! I recommend this to anyone and everyone. Thank you Mr. Hedges, your story helped me find myself and my craft!
This is one of those rare books that you will find yourself taking down from the bookshelf and reading again every couple of years. In fact, I recently invested in a hardcover copy through a used bookseller as my paperback copy was in tatters. This book reminds me of 'The Catcher in the Rye' in the way the main character is so universal. I have yet to run across anyone who's read this novel who didn't identify completely with Gilbert Grape. This is a beautifully written book.
This author can be so honest at times, that your breathe is taken away and a smile slips into its place. Hedges finds humor in events 'normal' people won't admit to being funny, because they can be politically incorrect or even cruel. We all secretly think like Hedges, but he has the nerve to write it down. The character Gilbert, is developed in such away that the reader can identify with him; at least I did. A wonderful book! Bravo!
The book is a literary masterpiece. From the beginnning to end you feel like you are Gilbert Grape ! I did not want my journey to end with Gilbert. His life to say the least was unique. I will recommend it to everyone.
This book was well worth the reading. It was very sad but also happy too. But over all it was very good. You will fall in love with the characters and they will become your family.
Sad, funny, sweet.... you'll fall in love with Gilbert instantly and he'll stay with you long after you finish the book. As an English major I've read many books and this is my absolute favorite. I've read it at least once a year since I bought it a few years ago and I will continue to read it at least once a year for as long as I can... and when I can't, I'll buy it on tape to listen to.
What¿s Eating Gilbert Grape, the first novel by author Peter Hedges, is an intense joyride of emotions from cover to cover. The book, written in 1991, portrays a 24 year old Gilbert Grape living on the brink of insanity in a tiny Midwestern town, fictionally named Endora. As a matter of fact, just about everything in the book is fictional. Hedges uses a unique abrupt writing style all his own to bring to life this small town and the characters therein. Most conversations between characters do not begin or end with 'he said,' or 'she said,' but rather begin by identifying the speakers, and then forcing the reader to follow along, allowing for a quicker, more upbeat read. Endora¿s unique population of characters unfolds slowly as the book progresses. The book doesn¿t just focus on Gilbert and his family, but on the inner workings of Endora as well. However, the reader doesn¿t just view Endora as is, but instead sees the small town through the eyes of Gilbert- whose voice Hedges uses as the narrator. The use of Gilbert as the narrator allows the reader to become submersed in Gilbert¿s world, feeling his emotions or disagreeing with them entirely- nevertheless providing for a unique view, and a unique book. There seems to be two main topics that remain constant throughout the book (there are many sub-plots and side topics though): Gilbert¿s strange and totally unique relationship with his family-and the relationships between themselves, (mainly the anticipation and planning of his younger, mentally challenged brother¿s eighteenth birthday), and Gilbert¿s somewhat romantic involvement with Becky, a beautiful sixteen year old girl who has come to visit her grandmother for the summer. Throughout it all you find the town and the people slowly changing- for better or for worse. Gilbert himself, however stubborn he may be, slowly changes and forms almost a new person entirely. It seems that the only constant, unchanging character is Arnie. With his child like playfulness, and all around stubbornness, the character of Arnie appears as almost the backbone of the story. Yet, no matter who you are or where you come from- What¿s Eating Gilbert Grape is a story that will keep you reading until the wonderful end, and will continue to stay with you- even after the pages between the covers have been read. In closing- I leave you with a quote, that possibly sums up more than half the book, from the master pessimistic narrator himself, the one, the only- Gilbert Grape: 'Everything is peachy. I¿ve got a mother who would eat her arm if she had enough barbecue sauce, a dork a$$ older brother and a wicked sister who got out of t his town, a little bit** of a sister who very likely made love to Jesus last night, and ever fattening older sister who deserves a decent man, and a retard brother who, we have reason to believe, has gone into hiding and is once again terrified of water.'
What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a loving story about a 24-year-old [Gilbert Grape] who has never left Endora, Iowa. Its a story about his life and wanting to get out, but along the way has to take on the responsibility of rasing his mentally challenged brother, Arnie. I would recommend this book because Peter Hedges does such and excellent job writing this book. He make you feel like you are in Gilbert's shoes.
I read What's Eating Gilbert Grape while in my late teens, and just recently bought PEter Hedge's newer book Ocean in Iowa. Hedges' superb subtlety in making the reader enjoy the somewhat mundane oddities of the main character's life is what made me enjoy both these novels. I am also impressed with his ability to maintain a certain atmosphere throughout the novel. The main character-Gilbert's- comments about himself, and disparragements about his family made me both laugh and cry. The book is wittily honest, and not afraid to take the risk of boring readers who seek action, to reach the readers who like to see the insanity that can happen to 'ordinary' people.
First book ever read. Didn't know much about the book, but somehow felt it would be a nice book to read. And I enjoyed it very much, I saw it on film first. Then I knew I had to get the book. I liked how the family stuck together. It shows that siblings aren't always like society has equipped them to be.
We just need you dads permission
Good book but thought the movie was so much better.
ONe of my favorites. Period.