Monday, July 03, 2006

I read that $.25 copy of Forrest Gump I picked up in a bag-sale at the Bellefonte library a while back. The first page reminded me of something I had read once, but had forgotten until now: the book and the movie are wildly divergent works of pop art. The only appearance of the "box of chocolates" metaphor in the book is on that first page, where Forrest informs the reader that "Bein' an idiot is no box of chocolates". It's really quite amusing for the first third of the novel, like a smartass fanfic version of the movie, full of snark and meanspiritedness and general ill will.

Winston Groom's original Forrest Gump is a polar opposite of the dunce-saint I remembered from the movie. He's faintly bigoted, has actual political views (everytime someone asks him about Vietnam, he says "it's a lot of shit"), smokes so much pot that he gets addicted to the stuff, is enough of an idiot-savant to play chess grandmasters, screws around, and in general behaves like a regular, fallen member of mankind. In many ways, this alternative Gump is barely any kind of idiot at all, which I suppose is where Groom was going with the final message-line of the book, having Jenny say something about everyone being some kind of idiot or another.

The Gump of the novel gets around a lot more than the movie-Gump, pelting the Clerk of the Senate with his Metal of Honor, saving Chairman Mao from drowning, becoming an astronaut, and spending four years as the slave of a tribe of cannibals in New Guinea, picking cotton. Did I mention the racism? Groom seems to be a real piece of work, and I swear this novel set back my opinion of the "New South" at least fifteen years.

At first I was delighted with the differences from the movie. The book reads like a meanspirited *satire* of the movie. However, by the time this Gump had gotten back from Vietnam and was auditing a Harvard literature class on "Idiots in World Literature" I was kind of pining for the Tom Hanks fool-saint and his passion-play decency. The difference between the movie-version and the book-version of Lieutenant Dan really brought home the difference, illustrated the *value* of Hollywood moralities. All of the pathos, the moral stature of the Lieutenant Dan arc had been an invention of the screen-writers, and the original Dan, stripped of all of that inventive family history and sense of destiny denied, turned out to be nothing more than a legless, drunken scumbag. There's no redemption in Groom's Gump, and that kind of sucks.

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